7-18-2018 Charter Review Committee - Request for Feedback: Facts Regarding Public Safety Building Override

Dear Editor:

Facts Regarding Public Safety Building Override

The Town Charter Committee has been made aware of support within the community for increasing the minimum number of registered voters’ signatures needed on a petition to hold a special election to override a Town Meeting action.

I felt obligated to inform citizens of this proposal by first writing to the Wakefield Daily Item, and then my letter will be posted to the town website on the “Charter Committee” page where citizens will be invited to provide their comments.

Here are the facts:

At Town Meeting on May 6, 2018, voters approved the appropriation of 8 million dollars to make improvements to the Public Safety Building in a vote of 168 to 41, surpassing the 2/3 margin needed for the measure to pass.  Opponents of the appropriation then gathered the required 200 signatures, 204 certified signatures to be exact, to call for an election to override the Town Meeting vote through a referendum question. That election was held on June 26, and as a result, the decision to appropriate funding was overturned by a vote of 1,118 to 1,042 and a margin of only 76 votes. The following numbers are revealing:

  • 209 citizens voted on May 6th after listening to the debate at Town Meeting


  • At Town Meeting, the measure was approved by a vote of 168 to 41 when only 138 votes were required for the 2/3 margin


  • Only 18 of the 204 citizens who signed the referendum petition had attended the May 6th Town Meeting


  • Of the 204 citizens who signed the petition, only 66 voted in the election on June 26

Currently, the Town Charter requires that at least 200 registered voters sign a referendum petition within ten business days of Town Meeting.  There are 18,390 registered voters in Wakefield, and 200 signatures equals a little over 1% of the voting population.

An interested citizen Richard Grief conducted a survey of other towns to see how their signature requirements compare, and I have added to his research the number of days after Town Meeting within which the petition must be filed and Charter Committee Member Andy Bray added the Town of Brookline.  Note that other towns use a percentage of registered voters instead of a minimum number like Wakefield:


# of Days after Town Meeting


# of  Wakefield voters


10 business days

200 voters amounts to 1.08%

200 voters required


14 calendar days

5% required

5% equals 920 voters


5 calendar days

5% required

5% equals 920 voters


5 calendar days

3% required

3% equals 552 voters


10 days excluding Sundays and holidays

10% required

10% equals 1,838 voters


7 business days

3% required

3% equals 552 voters


7 calendar day

3% required

3% equals 552 voters  or 20 %, 3678 voters to override



The other relevant issue that will be discussed is the margin of vote in the election. While Brookline requires 20% of the voters to prevail others have suggested a 2/3 margin similar to what is required to pass the appropriation or measure at town meeting.


This deliberation may weigh heavily on which voters would be most informed of the issues:

  • Those who participated and listened to the debate at town meeting, or
  • those who signed the petition, or
  • those who voted in the election?


Please express your thoughts on this as well as all the issues posted on the Charter Committee Page on the town website.


Thank you,

John F. Carney


Charter Committee

(774) 696 0288