With the proliferation of the red, white, blue, and yellow political candidate signs ahead of the special election for the Charter Review Commission on July 18th, one might think the entire charter – and vote – hinged on the one-two punch of the Financial Town Referendum (FTR) and taxes. Perhaps to the chagrin of many (or at least the few who put these signs out and request your vote), this is not the case.
The “Home Rule Charter” or Town Charter is a 44-page document that sets the structure, organization, and operation of our town. It was originally adopted in 1994, and through the work of many, has gone through four revisions since then (1999, 2004, 2008, 2011). Our Town Charter is available to all to read – by downloading at the town website (http://www.tiverton.ri.gov/onlinedocuments/) or by visiting the Town Clerks office at Town Hall.
Regarding the claims of the Red-White-Blue-and-Yellow Brigade to “protect your FTR” and elect voices that represent “all tax payers”, it is important to note that out of the 44 pages of the Town Charter, only four-and-a-half are dedicated to matters of the town budget, tax levy and resolution adoption process (Article III, Section 301, pages 3-7). And while taxes and budgets are important, our charter is much more.
In my review of the Charter ahead of the July 18th vote, I have pages and pages of notes with ideas and questions that I think will spur balanced discussion and civil discourse as to the opportunities to further enhance and contemporize the way our town is structured and run. I think undergoing an extensive benchmarking process with other RI municipalities, as well as seeking input from those for whom the Charter guides the work of, are equally important to create a well-informed pool of ideas and suggestions for the Charter Review Commission to work from.
For the record, my position on the FTR is as follows: I do not wish to eliminate it. However, there are parts of the process that should be changed to ensure a more level playing field across the budgeting and adoption process – whether for the Town’s official budget, or a petitioner’s. A good example of this is the number of valid signatures required to submit a petitioner’s budget. It currently stands at 50, whereas any citizen who wishes to bring forth a special referendum item for town-wide vote is required to secure five percent (5%) worth of valid signatures (Section 302, page 7) – which with 12,521 registered voters in Town (as of 6/30/2017, source = Town Clerk’s Office), equates to 626 signatures. The other important change would be to require (not make optional) the petitioner to submit detail line-item information regarding budget categories, and not just bottom-line numbers that then have to be dissected and applied after the FTR by the Budget Committee. If an individual cares enough to advance an alternative budget, they should be obliged to go through similar due diligence as our elected officials and town employees.
I have chosen to not seek endorsement from any town-based political organization, not to avoid having to share my views, ideas, or experience, but rather to tread the middle path of independence. My record of service to this Town is well documented, whether through elected office or numerous volunteer efforts across boards, commissions, youth sports, and Scouting. I advocate for civil discourse, critical thinking, and fact-based decision making. I serve from a community-first position and believe that any community – especially Tiverton – is only as strong as its most vulnerable citizen. Our review of the Town Charter is our opportunity to ensure the strongest backbone possible for this great community of ours.
If you support my candidacy, I ask that you consider sharing this statement with your network of Tiverton family and friends, whether online or off.
William P. (Bill) Gerlach
Candidate, Charter Review Commission