Our View: Dissolve The Chatham Charter Review Committee

Opinion

There is no dispute about the general outline of what occurred at the June 18 Chatham Charter Review Committee meeting. After the session was adjourned, property owner George Myers stood at the podium to speak about Open Meeting Law violation complaints he filed against the committee. Committee members urged him to stop speaking, because if they continued to deliberate they would be violating the Open Meeting Law. Committee member Seth Taylor grew angry and approached the podium, yelled at Myers to stop and grabbed his papers on the podium.

How angry and threatening Taylor was can be debated; there is no recording that can be reviewed. But the agreed upon facts—Taylor acknowledged yelling at Myers and apologized for his actions in an interview with The Chronicle last week—should be enough to prompt the board of selectmen to dismiss him from the committee. There's no need for an investigation, as the board discussed Monday. Behavior of that type should not be tolerated from any town official.

But there's a bigger issue here. The June 18 incident was just a symptom of a deeper dysfunction shown by, among other things, the charter review committee's spending three meetings trying to address Myers' allegations, as well as the resignation of its recording secretary over changes made to meeting minutes. We agree with Selectman Dean Nicastro's statement that the committee should be abolished.

What would be lost in doing so? The committee has been meeting for more than a year and has developed several amendments to the town's home-rule charter. Most are minor wording changes; a few more significant amendments—such as one that prohibits town employees from speaking at town meeting unless answering a technical question at the request of the selectmen—are problematic and probably won't pass muster with the Attorney General's Office; likewise, a preamble that mimics the U.S. Constitution is unnecessary and pretentious. All of these changes could be reviewed by any successor to the present committee.

But really, there's no need to appoint a new committee. Chatham's charter has functioned quite well since its adoption in 1994; it was amended several times since, but we've heard no great outcry for significant changes. We'd recommend that, rather than appoint a new charter commission, the selectmen take on the task themselves and discard the changes proposed by the most recent group, and suggest one amendment: removing the requirement that the charter be reviewed every five years. State law provides provisions for revising a charter if the need arises. That would alleviate the current crisis and eliminate the need to go through the laborious process of amending the charter every five years.