Petition article aims to increase citizen control of Redevelopment Authority

Oct 20, 2021

The Wareham Redevelopment Authority — a town body defined by state law that typically exists “for the purpose of engaging in urban renewal projects” — could see significant changes if Article 17 passes at the Oct. 25 Fall Town Meeting.

Currently, the Redevelopment Authority is made up of five members, each of whom joined the committee in accordance with a March 2018 state law specific to Wareham. That law requires the board to consist of two members of the Select Board (serving one-year terms), the town administrator, the director of planning and community development, and one registered voter of the town, who is appointed by the Select Board to serve a three-year term.

If passed, the citizens’ petition article would require the town to petition the state legislature to amend the 2018 law, replacing it with new language that would significantly alter who can serve on the Redevelopment Authority and how members are chosen.

The proposed amendment to the law would increase the Redevelopment Authority to seven voting members — four elected to five-year terms and three appointed by the Select Board (to serve a term of unspecified length). 

Under the new arrangement, the town administrator and the director of planning and community development would have a voice at meetings but would be unable to vote.

Lead petitioner Brenda Eckstrom said that currently, the board is made up of some town employees with extensive other responsibilities; two people who were elected to do different jobs; and only one person appointed specifically for the role. The article is a citizens’ petition, meaning that it needed ten signatures from registered voters to be added to the warrant.

Eckstrom said that the Redevelopment Authority is one of the most important boards in town, so citizens should have more say over who is on the board. She noted that the majority of towns in her research had more elected members on their Redevelopment Authority boards.

“Let the people of the town decide,” Eckstrom said.

Perhaps the most significant change would be the requirement that members of the newly-reconfigured Redevelopment Authority could not be on any other board that deals with land use, financial matters, or holds legally-binding hearings.

Both the Select Board and Finance Committee voted against recommending this article.