OPINION: Why We Oppose Wrentham CRC’s Attempt to Eliminate Voting Rights
By Edward Goddard and Michelle Rouse
In assessing the Charter Review Commission’s (CRC) proposals for Town Meeting, we recall Winston Churchill’s admonition that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” The CRC suggests removing many elected positions, such as Town Clerk, Boards of Assessors and Health, and Library Trustees, into Town-appointed roles. This would eliminate residents’ rights to elect these representatives, and further concentrate power within the Town Administrator/Selectmen roles. The CRC argues eliminating elections would broaden available talent, with the Town Clerk, for instance, no longer required to be a Wrentham resident. The CRC also warns that the voters might elect a poor candidate as Town Clerk. And they cite lack of contested elections as additional support.
We have both served as Selectmen and on the Wrentham Elementary School Committee; Ed has also been Town Moderator for the past seven years. We emphasize that CRC members, who are our colleagues and friends, act in good faith. Still, their arguments lack persuasion and must be challenged. First, the CRC concedes that the Town Clerk and affected boards are all operating efficiently, even with unprecedented changes to voting laws since the Covid-19 pandemic. Second, if no one steps forward to run for the affected positions, the Selectmen appoint the boards, essentially replicating what the CRC is proposing now. Third, we remain confident, given recent history, that a locally elected Town Clerk can handle further election law changes, which we expect will not rival Covid-era changes. Finally, we take serious issue with and challenge the notion “Government knows best” that CRC relies upon to take away voting rights to protect us from ourselves for a possible poor Town Clerk candidate choice. Yes, democracy is messy, and a lesser candidate could possibly be elected. So too may our unelected Town Administrator appoint an equally poorly equipped friend from outside of Wrentham, without any oversight or checks and balances from voters.
In the end, the attempt to end-run voters and concentrate power with the Town Administrator/Selectmen is a bridge too far for us, however well-intended. Including the Boards of Health and Assessors and the Library Trustees instead of a stand-alone vote on the Town Clerk position suggests this is an attempt to make lives easier for them and in the process implicitly questions the judgment of Wrentham voters. We are unwilling to support this autocratic approach to town government.
If you believe similarly, attend Town Meeting and vote against these changes. Utilize social media, reach out to friends, and engage with your elected officials to voice your concerns about eliminating your right to vote. This is a once-in-a-decade vote in Wrentham.
We close with a recent quote from Israel Supreme Court Justice Amit: “Democracy dies in a series of small steps.” Defeat the CRC’s proposals at Town Meeting and reinforce that Wrentham’s authority rightly derives from the votes of the residents, not Town Administration or the Board of Selectmen.