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There are three main routes for making changes in a municipal charter.

Charter Review Committee

Our current charter states that every 10 years “a special committee shall be established for the
purpose of reviewing” the charter. This committee is charged with making recommendations
that are voted on at town meeting. However, the state makes it clear (General Law Chapter 43B
Section 10) that this committee does not allow for changes in the form of government.

To make significant alterations to a town’s form of government, the options are limited to an
elected Charter Commission or petitioning the state Legislature (the “home rule petition”)

Elected Charter Commission

With an elected charter commission, the voters of Norton would choose the nine members on
the commission whose role it is to review the current charter and make recommendations for
changes. The state sets a very specific timeline for the process. Once the commission is
elected, they have a maximum of 16 months to produce a preliminary report and two additional
months to produce a final report. The state also dictates that both the preliminary and final
reports be printed and distributed and the commission hold at least two public hearings to
gather public input before the final recommendations are made. Once the commission has
finalized their recommendations, all of the voters of Norton have the final say in whether the
charter is adopted at a town election. Other than reviewing the charter for conflicts with state
law, the state is not involved in the process.

Home Rule Petition

The process for a Home Rule Petition begins with the Board of Selectmen appointing a study
committee. After the committee has completed their proposal, it goes before a town meeting
vote. If the town meeting votes in favor of the proposal, it then needs to be approved by the
State Legislature, and signed by the Governor. In the case where a significant change is
proposed, the legislation is subject to ratification at a town election.

While there are advantages and disadvantages to each process, there are several factors that
make the elected charter commission more appealing. The charter commission provides a
specific timeline and direction for including the voters of Norton. Throughout the process, the
decisions lie solely with the voters of Norton, from choosing the members of the commission to
the final decision of whether to accept the recommendations of the charter commission. Unlike
the process for a Home Rule Petition, the proposed changes do not need to go before a town
meeting vote or be decided on by the state legislature.