BURRILLVILLE – Voters will decide this November on several proposed amendments to the Burrillville Town Charter, including a question that would see a return to declared political parties for candidates for the Burrillville School Committee.
That change, proposed by Councilor Raymond Trinque, is among around a dozen ballot questions approved by the Town Council this month for inclusion on the 2022 election ballot.
The council decisions follow months of review of the town’s governing document by a nine-member Charter Review Commission. The commission, appointed last September, submitted 13 potential questions for review by the board, along with a separate housekeeping list of technical changes aimed in part at cleaning up language in the charter to make it more consistent with other state and local laws.
Not all of the commission’s recommendations won the approval of councilors. A ballot question that would have created 12-year term limits for members of the Town Council and School Committee was rejected, following discussion last week of the lack of candidates seeking local office in recent years.
“After going back and forth on the suggestion on the term limit idea, I’ve come to the conclusion that, although I’m an advocate for term limits for Congress and state offices, there’s a primary difference when it trickles down to council,” said Councilor Stephen Rawson. “Council and School Committee are primarily volunteer, although we are elected. The difference being: it’s not our livelihood. We don’t go into it to be paid well for what we do. That’s their livelihood, and they get tied up in power, prestige and money.”
Rawson also pointed to the difficulty the town has had in recent years finding people to run for the local seats, and Trinque agreed.
“The bottom line is we’re just not getting enough people to run for office,” said Trinque, who also served for 18 years on the Burrillville School Committee. “You have good people serving, and you tell them they have to go, and no one takes their place. That would be my fear.”
“The timing for that is bad in that there just are not enough people for these positions,” Trinque said, before councilors voted unanimously against the commission-proposed questions.
Trinque did propose his own charter question, which he said is aimed at addressing that lack of candidates. The amendment would remove the words “non-partisan” from the charter section governing elections to the Burrillville School Committee.
Trinque said in addition to encouraging more candidates to run with the help of established political parties, the change would allow voters to better understand their socio-political ideologies.
Rawson pointed out that School Committee members in Burrillville used to have political affiliations.
“I think the parties would have a better opportunity to come up with candidates,” Rawson said, before councilors agreed unanimously to forward that question to the ballot.
If passed, Trinque noted that the change would still allow candidates to run as independents.
Other questions approved for the November ballot include charter amendments that lay out the process for how to fill vacancies on both the Town Council and School Committee. The charter dictates that when a vacancy occurs, the next highest vote-getter from the previous election cycle should fill the seat. But language is vague on the subject of what to do when there were no additional candidates to choose from – as was the case when the issue came up last year.
“When Dot Cardon resigned, there was nothing in the language of the charter that codeified what the process should be,” noted Town Council President Don Fox.
According to the proposed amendment, the town’s screening committee would advertise the open position and the top three candidates to fill the remaining term of the vacancy would then go before the council.
Two approved questions requested by Town Manager Michael Wood aim to change language in the municipal hiring process, reducing the qualification requirements for town treasurer from a bachelor’s degree to only a two-year associate’s degree, and removing the requirement that a potential town planner receive recommendation of both the Planning Board and the Personnel Board.
Another ballot question will address the charter change process itself, so that starting in 2028, all potential changes to the document would be voted on during a presidential election cycle to ensure maximum participation.
If approved, an additional amendment proposed by the commission would require that the town’s canvassing authority not consist of more than two individuals belonging to the same political party. A separate question also aims to ensure bipartisanship at town polling places.
The council-approved list of questions will now go before the town solicitor for legal review and required language to appear on the upcoming ballot.
Fox thanked the nine-member review commission for their work.
“That’s an important commission for this town,” Fox said. “I think they did a great job.”
Editor’s note: An original version of this article stated that a new screening subcommittee would evaluate potential candidates to fill vacancies. The existing board would actually take on the task. We apologize for the error.