Please support local news coverage –

Donate Here

Portsmouth voters face numerous Town Charter changes on ballot

Changes address council powers, conflicts of interest, provisional budget and more

Posted 10/15/20

PORTSMOUTH — When local residents go to the polls on Nov. 3 or fill out their mail ballot in advance, they’ll be asked to do more than just select their favorite local, statewide and …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Not a subscriber?


Start a Subscription

Sign up to start a subscription today! Click here to see your options.

Purchase a day pass

Purchase 24 hours of website access for $2. Click here to continue

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.


Please support local news coverage –

Donate Here

Portsmouth voters face numerous Town Charter changes on ballot

Changes address council powers, conflicts of interest, provisional budget and more

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — When local residents go to the polls on Nov. 3 or fill out their mail ballot in advance, they’ll be asked to do more than just select their favorite local, statewide and national candidates.

Portsmouth voters will also be asked to approve or reject numerous changes to the Town Charter, the document that defines local government’s organization, powers, functions and procedures.

In June and July, the Town Council voted on a number of charter revisions to put on the November ballot after receiving recommendations from the Charter Review Committee (CRC), a group of about 20 citizens who were appointed in January 2019.

Here are the proposed Town Charter changes, as they will appear as Questions 2 through 13 on the local ballot, along with their intended effect:

2. Grammatical revision and council number, term, selection — “Shall Article II, Section 201 of the Portsmouth Town Charter be amended to make a minor grammatical revision and to provide that all candidates for Town Council be listed on the ballot in an order to be determined by the Board of Canvassers by the drawing of lots?”

Effect: Eliminates old language that allowed listing candidates in alphabetical order, or in an order set forth by endorsement papers submitted by the local Democratic Town Committee. 

3. Town Council, president officer — “Shall Article II, Section 204 of the Portsmouth Town Charter be amended to clarify that in the absence of the Town Council President, the Vice President shall be the presiding officer?” 

Effect: Adds language that states if the president is absent, the vice president is the presiding Town Council officer.

4. Town Council powers — “Shall Article II, Section 207 of the Portsmouth Town Charter be amended to clarify the process for Council appointment of individuals to committees, and to provide for Council approval of an Emergency Management Plan?”

Effect: Clarifies that the council can appoint individuals to town committees only from a list of those who have submitted applications to the clerk. It also adds that the council shall approve an emergency management plan that includes a chain of command. 

5. Provisional budget — “Shall Article II, Section 208, paragraph 2 of the Portsmouth Town Charter be amended to add language requiring the provisional budget to be published on the Town’s website, in addition to a newspaper of general circulation in the Town?”

Effect: Adds a requirement that the provisional budget be published on the town’s website in addition to a newspaper.

6. Fire Department — “Shall Article VI, Section 602 of the Portsmouth Town Charter be amended to provide that the Fire Chief shall have at least ten (10) years’ experience in the fields of fire-fighting and fire prevention?”

Effect: Increases the requirement that the fire chief have at least five years of experience to 10 years.

7. School Department, School Committee compensation — “Shall Article VII, Section 704 of the Portsmouth Town Charter be amended to change the words ‘salaries’ and ‘salary’ to ‘compensation’? 

Effect: Clarifies that School Committee members are not salaried employees by changing what they receive from “salary” to “compensation.”

8. Selecting School Committee clerk — “Shall Article VII, Section 706 of the Portsmouth Town Charter be amended to use gender-neutral language and clarify the process for selection of a Clerk of the School Committee?”

Effect: Changes “chairman” to gender-neutral “chair,” and clarifies that the clerk is elected by the School Committee in the same way as the chair and vice chair.

9. Appointment of a superintendent — “Shall Article VII, Section 708 of the Portsmouth Town Charter be amended to clarify that the Superintendent of Schools shall be appointed by a vote of a majority of school committee members?”

Effect: Adds language saying the superintendent must be appointed by a majority vote of the School Committee. This is the current practice, but it ensures that in the future, a chair cannot unilaterally appoint a superintendent.

10. Appointment/removal of other school employees — “Shall Article VII, Section 710 of the Portsmouth Town Charter be amended to revise and clarify the process for Appointment and Removal of Other School Employees?” 

Effect: To follow state law, this eliminates language that gives the School Committee power to give “advice and consent” about school department employee appointments.

11. Public records — “Shall Article IX, Section 902 of the Portsmouth Town Charter be amended to provide for consistency with the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act?”

Effect: Eliminates language that allowed the Town Council to refuse access to public documents because it held the “opinion” that disclosure would “tend to defeat the lawful purpose” of the documents. Removing this language removes a restriction to accessing public documents in accordance with state law.

12. Conflict of interest — “Shall Article IX, Section 903 of the Portsmouth Town Charter be amended to provide for consistency with the Rhode Island Code of Ethics?”

Effect: Adds the language, “including but not limited to financial benefit,” to recognize that a conflict of interest could involve more than just financial benefits. It also clarifies that notice of conflict of interest must be submitted in writing to the town clerk.

13. Collective bargaining — “Shall Article IX, Section 913 of the Portsmouth Town Charter be amended to delete the words “including School Department employee unions” to provide for consistency with state law? 

Effect: Removing this language recognizes that, as required by state law, it’s the School Department’s role to negotiate contracts with school employee unions and the role of the Town Council to vote on the bottom line of the School Department budget. 

Please support your local news coverage

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the local economy - and many of the advertisers who support our work - to a near standstill. During this unprecedented challenge, we continue to make our coronavirus coverage free to everyone at eastbayri.com - we believe it is our mission is to deliver vital information to our communities. If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please consider a tax-deductible donation. 

Donate Here

Thank you for your support!

Matt Hayes, Portsmouth Times Publisher

2020 by East Bay Newspapers

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.