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Proposed bill would change charter procedures

CONCORD — The Senate approved a bill Thursday that would change how communities adopt and revise town and city charters.

House Bill 422, a policy initiative of the New Hampshire Municipal Association, is intended to make the charter adoption and revision process easier, but opponents, including two of the three Manchester senators, said instead it complicates the process.

Supporters said Manchester, which recently completed a charter revision, would be exempt from the changes, as would other communities with existing charters or in the process of adopting or revising a charter.

However, the exempt communities would need to follow the new provisions and procedures in any future revisions.

The bill would allow any 25 city residents signing a petition to place a charter question on the city’s general election ballot.

Sens. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, and Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, pleaded with Senators to delay a vote on the bill until the city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen had a chance to review the bill and see how it would affect the city.

“All (the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen) are asking is to hold this until they have a chance to review this. Is that unreasonable?” D’Allesandro said. “We do that all the time.”

Soucy noted the bill would mean significant changes in the charter revision process for the city and make it more expensive.

She said under the bill a charter commission could only propose a change in the form of government, adding the changes would require individual charter amendments instead of a unified package as commissions now propose.

With a vote on individual charter amendments, voters may approve inconsistent articles, Soucy said.

And she said the bill removes the Secretary of State from the process when that office is the place to call when local officials have questions about the process.

She said it is unclear whether the exemption applies going forward or whether exempt communities should follow existing law or the new law.

“Everyone’s good intentions of simplifying it, complicates it,” Soucy said.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said the changes would affect the process of amending charters going forward.

“The intent was to make the process of amending charters easier for local communities,” Bradley said, “not affecting those with existing charters.”

Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, proposed an amendment to exempt the existing charter communities from the new requirements.

The amendment was approved and the bill was adopted on a 15-7 vote. The bill will go back to the House because of the Senate changes.

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