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Activist Wants To Change City Charter

Claremont Tea Party Founder : Voters Should Have Final Say

Claremont — Resident Cynthia Howard, who has been a frequent critic of city spending, is collecting petition signatures to ask voters to establish a commmission to review the city charter.

Howard, founder of the Claremont-based Tea Party group Claremont Citizens for Lower Taxes who tried unsuccessfully to pass a tax cap ordinance in the city a few years ago, said she decided to begin a petition drive because nothing came out of a suggestion several months ago by former Assistant Mayor Andy Austin to consider a charter commission.

Howard said she wants to see revisions that allow residents to make more decisions on a range of issues such as special elections to replace councilors. At present, when a seat opens between elections, councilors are entitled to appoint the replacement, as it recently did following the resignations of Austin and Tom Burnham.

She also said voters should have the final say on rescinding ordinances and bonding.

On the question of whether she would like to see Claremont revert to a town meeting form of government that leaves spending and most other issues, including zoning, up to voters, Howard said if she were on the commission, it would be something she would consider.

“If there is popular support for it, I would push for it,” Howard said.

In order to have the question on the Nov. 5 ballot, Howard must obtain 230 signatures on her petition by Sept. 20. The required number of signatures represents 20 percent of the ballots cast in the last municipal election in November 2011. If she misses that deadline, Howard can file the petition up until Dec. 22. A special election will have to be held between 60 and 90 days once the signatures are deemed valid.

Howard’s petition was discussed by the City Council Wednesday night, which was mistakenly told the signatures were due Thursday. Because it appeared to the council that Howard would not make the deadline, councilors indicated they may be willing to exercise their authority and vote to put the question on the November ballot to avoid holding a special vote.

Councilors Chris Irish and Kyle Messier both said they would like to see the charter revised so that all nine council seats are not up for election every two years. Before voters approved a change about 10 years ago, not every seat was up for election the same year.

“All nine councilors up for election is really bad for the city,” Irish said.

City attorney Jane Taylor told the council the City Clerk’s Office must be able finalize the ballot by Oct. 1 to allow for the mailing of absentee ballots. If the council wants to vote on placing the charter commission question on the ballot, it would have to hold a special meeting because the next regular council meeting is Oct. 9.

“Whichever gets there first,” Howard said Thursday.

If voters agree to establish a charter commission, an election would be required to chose nine residents to serve and Howard said she would consider running for one of the seats.

The commission would decide whether to revise, amend or create a new charter.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.