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What does the word “shall” mean to you?

May 13, 2014

Per Town Counsel Ilana Quirk, the word “shall,” which appears almost 500 times in the town charter and bylaws, doesn’t really mean a whole lot because, well, courts have ruled that it doesn’t mean anything unless it has some sort of enforcement power behind it.

Below, take a look at a few other instances where the word “shall” appears in the town charter. Guess what? None of it really means anything. Feel free to disregard the word “shall” at will.

Obviously, the below is simply facetious, but it is a real issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible through a comprehensive charter review.

Charter Section 3-2

“There shall be a board of selectmen consisting of five (5) members elected by vote of the registered voters of the town for three-year overlapping terms, so arranged that the terms of not more than two (2) members shall expire each year.”

Does this mean that we can theoretically have six members of the Board of Selectmen, just for kicks? What about two? Where does it end?

Charter Section 1-2

“The official seal of the Town of Walpole shall be designed as follows:

I kind of like this seal instead: Any town board should feel free to use that seal in their letterheads. The worst thing that can happen is that Selectmen remove the committee members, but how many Selectmen are we supposed to have anyway (see above)? Can’t those committee members just appoint themselves Selectmen?

Charter Section 2-6

“Except as provided in Section 2-5(E)(2) [relating to re-precincting], the term of office for Town Meeting Representatives shall be three years, so that approximately one third of the membership shall be elected each year.”

Is it merely a recommendation, a mere suggestion, that RTMs should serve only three-year terms, or can they hold on to their seats indefinitely while waving around Counselor Quirk’s legal opinion as a basis for keeping their seats?

Charter Section 4-2

“The Town Administrator shall be appointed on the basis of his/her administrative and executive qualifications and experience. He or she shall be a person especially fitted by education, which shall consist of at least a Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited degree-granting college or university, to perform the duties of Town Administrator and his/her professional experience shall include previous full-time, compensated service in public or business administration.”

Is this merely a recommendation as well? I suppose the Selectmen could just hire Sewer and Water Commissioner James P. Taylor as our next Town Administrator, and it would technically be legal according to Counselor Quirk?

Section 2-7

“A representative who moves from the town shall cease forthwith to be a representative and must, within ten (10) days, submit a written notice to the Town Clerk.”

Bring back the Mutis! Even though they live in Quincy, there is nothing stopping them from voting on Walpole RTM affairs.

Section 2-9

“Changes in the Rules of Town Meeting shall be effective upon a two-thirds vote of the town meeting.”

Why not interpret this to mean that nothing more than a simple majority is needed to change the rules? Heck, for that matter, how about 1/3 of RTMs can change the rules?

Section 2-9

“The various town boards, officers, and committees charged with the expenditures of town money shall, at a reasonable time before the end of each calendar year, prepare detailed estimates of the amounts deemed by them advisable for the town to expend for capital projects annually for a period up to six years or as determined by the Capital Budget Committee, together with explanatory statements providing such additional information about each proposed capital project as reasonably may be requested by the Capital Budget Committee.”

Again, nothing in here is mandatory. Bureaucrats don’t have to write up anything for the Capital Budget Committee that isn’t already a public record.

Section 2-9

“A capital project shall generally be considered a physical betterment or item of equipment having a substantial useful life (in excess of 5 years) the total cost of which exceeds $5,000 or such other amount as may be specified from time to time in the Town By-laws. A capital project shall be more specifically defined as a non-recurring expenditure financed in whole or in part by town funds or other sources of revenue available to the town for the construction, reconstruction, replacement, major repair, extension or other improvement of a public building, highway, sidewalk, storm drain, sewer, installation, vehicle, equipment, bridge, playground, land, park or cemetery or pond, and public works or other facility, structure or utility appurtenant.”

Why not just sneak capital budget items into the regular town budget and see if anyone notices?

Section 2-10

“The Town Meeting shall meet annually at 7:30 p.m. on the first Monday in May to consider and adopt an annual operating and capital budget, and to act on fiscal subjects or any pertinent matters.”

What is stopping RTMs from meeting on a random day in June instead? Hey, at least it will give us a better idea of state aid figures by that time.

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