The East Longmeadow Town Charter
By the early twenty-teens it became obvious that the Town of East Longmeadow had outgrown its Town Meeting and Board of Selectmen form of government. At Town Meeting a little over 100 self-selected residents were determining the budget and legislation for a town of over 16,000. This made it relatively easy for special interests to pack the meeting. In addition, with only one regular Town Meeting and one Special Town Meeting each year, it took over six months to take action on issues.
In 2014 a group of residents circulated a petition to put the question “Shall a Commission be elected to frame a new charter for the Town of East Longmeadow?” on the town election ballot in the spring of 2015. Enough signatures were obtained and on April 14, 2015 the Town voted 462 to 90 to create the Commission. This was an 81% favorable vote.
At the same election, the voters elected 9 Commissioners to draft the new charter. They were Russell Denver, William Fonseca, George Kingston, Larry Levine, Eric Madison, Thomas O’Connor, Ralph Page and Dawn Wiezbicki-Starks. All of the above had experience in Town government.
Starting on April 30, the Commission met every other week for the next 10 months with the assistance of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and the Collins Center at UMass Boston. They met with all of the Town department heads to ask what was working and what was not. They also met with nearby towns of similar size to get a perspective on how their governments worked. They examined the charters of other towns.
The final draft recommended replacing the open Town Meeting with a seven member Town Council elected for staggered three-year terms. It also recommended having a strong town manager. With more than 16,000 residents and a town budget of more than $50 million, the Commission felt that the town needed strong, professional management.
Finally, the Commission recommended that all town boards, committees, commissions and other bodies, including all those which were currently elected (except the School Committee) be appointed, with either the approval of the Town Council or subject to its veto. The School Committee was still be elected. The Commission reached this decision in order to better centralize the government and to encourage cooperation between departments which previously considered themselves to be independent of each other.
The final report of the Commission was issued on February 2, 2016.
At the April 12th annual Town election, the voters accepted the new charter by 60 percent margin. The first Town Council was elected on June 7, 2016 and consisted of Kevin Manley, Paul Federici, Kathleen Hill, Donald Anderson, Eric Madison, Michael Kane and Joseph Ford. The Charter went into effect on July 1, 2016.