Monday, February 9, 2015

North Attleboro RTM Needs To Do Right Thing

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, February 9, 2015
By Bill Gouveia

            Kudos to North Attleboro selectmen for doing the right thing last week and finally sending the oft-delayed Special Charter Act to Town Meeting.  It is the first of two critical steps towards complying with the expressed desire of the town’s voters to have this come before them for a binding ballot decision.


            The second critical step will come on March 23 when Representative Town Meeting (RTM) begins deliberations on whether or not to send this question to the legislature for placement on a future town ballot.  The Special Act Charter cannot be approved and/or instituted unless a majority of citizens at a town election vote for it.


            So when RTM members cast their votes next month, it will not be in opposition or support of the charter proposal itself.  They will not be giving it their stamp of approval should they send it to Boston.  Their decision will not be – and should not be – indicative of whether or not they believe changing the form of government is a good idea.


            The only question RTM members will have before them on March 23 will be:  “Should the voters of North Attleboro be allowed to decide their own future, or are we who were elected to represent them going to once again prevent that from happening?”


            No amount of explaining, politicking or excuse-making can change that fact.  Some will cast the upcoming process in a different light, but North Attleboro citizens and voters should be very clear on this.  RTM will not be voting on whether the form of government should be changed.


            All they will be voting on is whether or not to let their citizens cast ballots.  They will either trust them with this decision in the manner prescribed by law, or treat them like little children and tell them to leave it all to the RTM members.


            RTM is supposed to be the voice of the people.  Members are elected to carry out the town’s business.  They have knowledge and experience that can only come from getting intimately involved in overseeing a local government.  And yes, their job is to lead and make important decisions.


            But it is not their job to be obstructionists.  It is not their job to stop elections from happening.  It is not their job to dictate.


            If the charter proposal is allowed on the ballot, there will be plenty of time for RTM members to be heard on whether it should pass.  There will be the opportunity for vigorous campaigning on both sides of the issue. 


            If you are an RTM member, you owe it to the voters to give your opinion on the charter during a campaign.  If you oppose the government change, that is the time to say so.  Stand on the rooftops and shout your position if you are so moved.  Your view on the charter is important and needs to be aired.


            But there has to be the opportunity for debate.  Not just within your small elected group, but amongst the people you serve.  You have an obligation to further that debate, not prevent it from occurring.  Changing the form of government should be decided by that most American of methods – a vote of the people.


            North Attleboro will have a silly preliminary election this week for no good reason.  How can you allow an election to just reduce the number of candidates, but deny one on the form of government?


            The selectmen did not take a position on the charter proposal because it was not the time to do so.  No doubt they will make their feelings known if this advances.  They properly recognized that at this moment, this is a simple situation.  You either let the people vote, or you deny them that right.


            For over a decade now, North Attleboro voters have been asking for the right to cast a binding ballot on their form of government.  Next month their RTM will either give them that right, or deny them once again.


            If RTM members fail to send this proposal forward, it would be a clear indication they do not value the intelligence or the rights of their constituents.  Here’s hoping they follow the example of their selectmen, and do the right thing.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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