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May 24, 2013

Mayor suggests forming new charter committee

METHUEN — Mayor Stephen Zanni wants to appoint a new committee after this year’s election to review the city charter, roughly a year and a half after voters overwhelmingly rejected the last revision attempt.

That proposal, among other provisions, would have eliminated term limits for elected city officials and was hobbled by a charter commission riven over the term limit changes. Zanni said yesterday that he wanted to change or clarify the charter given recent issues with the city solicitor and uncertainty over filling an opening on the School Committee.

“There are a lot of areas that should be looked at, streamlining the charter, making sure every point has been clarified,” he said.

Those issues, according to the Massachusetts Constitution, which sets out the procedure for altering local charters, may be able to be accomplished without the election of a charter commission. Amendments, which cannot change the composition or terms of major elected officials, can be approved with two-thirds of the City Council and by a majority of voters.

Zanni first raised the idea Tuesday evening at a special School Committee meeting, where he read an opinion by City Solicitor Peter McQuillan interpreting how a vacancy on the committee should be filled. The issue was a phrase that suggested the committee should appoint one of the last defeated candidates “who received at least 20 percent of the total votes cast.”

However, none of the candidates in the 2011 municipal election, including those who won, came close to 20 percent of the total votes cast. McQuillan’s opinion reasoned that using the total votes – each voter gets six votes for School Committee – would “defeat the purpose of the Charter. A more reasonable approach would be to interpret the term ‘votes’ to mean ‘ballots’.”

That effectively means the vacancy can be filled with the defeated candidate whose vote tally was at least 20 percent of the voter turnout.

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