CHELSEA — To avoid ever being “held hostage” again, town officials say they are pushing forward to create a municipal charter.

Selectman Ben Smith said it would have been helpful to have a charter provision regarding removal of a selectman when former selectwoman Carole Swan refused to quite the board following her arrest last February. Swan, whose case is pending in federal court, is accused of misusing town money and soliciting more than $20,000 in kickbacks from a Whitefield plow contractor.

Smith said a charter can contain provisions to address removal of a selectman for inappropriate conduct, as well as the method in which the town conducts business items.

Residents took the first step in creating a charter on Nov. 8 when they voted in favor of establishing a charter commission.

Smith said the formation of a commission will take a few years and will result in a preliminary and final report, followed by special elections for the adoption of a final charter and election of any officials created by the new municipal laws.

“Having a town charter created and approved by the citizens strengthens the town governance,” Smith said. “We are rebuilding town government, and a charter is one tool that the town should have.”

Linda Leotsakos, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, and Town Manager Scott Tilton, both said that they agree with the need for a town charter.

“The adoption of a charter would provide the town with a solid set of rules that would allow the town to better govern itself,” Tilton said.

Smith said the charter commission will be comprised of nine members. Three will be appointed by the select board and the remaining six will be chosen by residents during a special election on March 27.

The board has already selected Peter Hanson, Elizabeth Larrabee and Ben Smith to serve on the commission.

Nomination papers are available at the Town Office for the remaining six slots. The documents must be turned into the town clerk by Feb. 14 at 4:30 p.m.

“We hope that many people take out nomination papers and remember to vote on March 27,” Smith said. “The charter commission will be important to the town’s future and we are looking for people who are energetic and bring diverse views.”

Tilton said it could take up to 24 months for the commission to draft a charter and have it approved.

“We really need six people to step up and take out papers for the charter commission,” Tilton said. “Nobody has taken out papers yet and it’s a fairly important job.”

Like other small towns, Chelsea follows a town meeting form of government instead of operating under a municipal charter.

Smith said a charter could specify an annual budget process, outline duties of town officials, prioritize road maintenance and lay out the rules for selecting and funding capital improvement projects.

“The town could also alter its form of government and create a board of selectmen or town council consisting of five or more persons,” Smith said. “Through the charter process, annual town meeting could be preserved and improved.”

Members will hold an organizational meeting after the election. At that time, the commission will select a chairman, vice-chairman and secretary.

Within 30 days of the first organizational meeting, Smith said the commission will hold a public meeting to discuss the town charter.

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

[email protected]

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