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When Newport voters go to the polls in November, they will not only be faced with a competitive general election for statewide and local offices, but also important ballot questions, including school regionalization, whether Newport would support retail marijuana sales, and a host of charter changes that could have a significant impact on the town’s future governance.
At this week’s city council meeting, councilors are expected to approve joining many other communities in sending the question of retail marijuana sales to the voters, along with a series of recommended charter changes proposed by a charter review commission. School regionalization (that would join Middletown and Newport schools) was already approved for the November ballot.
The marijuana question is one being posed in several communities after the state legislature approved retail marijuana sales for recreational use. Cities and towns, if they wish to opt out of sales, need the approval of the voters. That referendum asks: “Shall new cannabis-related licenses for businesses involved in the cultivation, manufacture, laboratory testing, and for the retail sale of adult recreational use cannabis be issued in the city.”
It is the charter issues that could significantly change how government operates. The council on Wednesday will consider a resolution that would approve placing on the November ballot “the Charter Review Commission’s suggested revisions.”
While many of the review commission’s proposal would simply update or clarify language within the charter, the commission has proposed term limits, changing the way in which the mayor is elected, and changing all council positions to at-large.
It is the last one that Mayor Jeanne Marie Napolitano said could run into problems at the Wednesday council meeting. “Obviously those (councilors) that are in a ward are not supportive of this recommendation,” Napolitano said.
Currently, four of the seven councilors are elected at large. In two of the three wards, incumbents are not being challenged – Angela McCalla in ward one, and Charles Holder in ward two. Incumbent Kathryn Leonard in ward three is opposed by David R. Carlin.
Here are a few of the more substantive charter revision proposals:
- Elimination of ward-specific representatives, with all seven City Council members elected at-large. The charter commission has suggested that a council elected all at large “will allow councilors to concern themselves with the problems of an entire community.”
- Term limits. Councilors could not serve more than four consecutive two-year terms.
- Change the way in which the mayor is chosen from selection by the council to the highest vote among at-large candidates.