2013-11-07 / Front Page

Charter Review Begins

By Tom Shevlin

For the first time in nearly six years, a commission tasked with developing recommendations aimed at amending Newport’s governing charter has met to set a course that very well could shape the future direction of the city.

Established earlier this year and constituted late last month, the city’s Charter Review Commission carries a specific and sweeping charge: making Newport as welcoming to residents and businesses as possible.

Over the next few months, the group is expected to debate and issue a series of potential changes to how the city operates, on topics such as the election and powers of the council and school committee, the duties of the city manager, and the city’s approach to economic development.

Adopted in 1927, Newport’s City Charter is, in short, the founding document for our current form of government. Though it’s been changed over the years to better reflect the needs and functions of City Hall, fundamentally it remains the bedrock document upon which our civic leaders base their decisions.

Newport Mayor Henry F. Winthrop broached the idea of forming a Charter Review Commission during last spring’s budget hearings. At that time, frustrations were running high with the lack of transparency on the part of the School Committee, and Winthrop suggested that a comprehensive review of how the committee operates be undertaken.

Voters last made changes to the City Charter in November of 2008, approving mostly technical amendments. Other initiatives, such as employing staggered terms for elective offices, clarifying the procedures for prospective candidates to secure a spot on the ballot, and easing zoning restrictions on businesses, were left untouched.

As Winthrop noted in a June resolution that formally established the Charter Review Commission, “Over the last four and one-half years, issues have arisen that have raised the question of the need for a timely review of the Charter to ensure that the provisions thereof meet the needs of our local government and the wishes of the people.”

The commission, which is made of up nine members of the public, is required to hold no less than two hearings to solicit input from the public.

The group met for an organizational meeting in the downstairs program room at the Newport Public Library on Wednesday, Nov. 6, to set out a general course for future meetings and hone in on potential areas of focus.

A final report is due back by Feb. 1, in order to give City Council sufficient time to address the recommendations.

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