Should Berlin become a town?

BERLIN – Berlin has been a city for 116 years but a group of residents feel a town form of government would serve the community better.
Jonathan Edwards, Warren Horsfield, George Beals, Cindy Edwards, and Arthur Goodwin are hoping to get a question on the November municipal ballot asking residents if they favor abolishing the city form of government and reverting to a town.
The group approached the city council earlier this month, asking for help to get a question on the ballot. On the advice of city attorney Chris Boldt, the council said it was inappropriate for the city to advise a private party on how to revise the city charter.
The group then submitted a notice of intent to constitute a petitioners committee, believing that under RSA 49-B:3 the city then had to issue petition forms to the committee. The committee then had to gather signatures equal to 20 percent of the vote cast in the last municipal election to put the issue on the ballot.
But City Manager James Wheeler responded in writing that he believes the process is guided by RSA 49-B:5, requiring the affidavit to form a petitioners committee include not the signature of five voters but an additional 20 signatures of voters.
Wheeler said rather than revising the city charter, the group is really seeking to return to the former form government in place before Berlin became a city. He said the petition should describe the prior town form of government, including such details as the number of selectmen then.
"You would need to research this to confirm the form of government existing in Berlin at the time the city charter was originally adopted by the voters," Wheeler wrote.
Wheeler also advised the group that his letter should not be taken as legal advice and repeated the council's earlier recommendation that the group obtain its own legal advice.
Jonathan Edwards said the group received Wheeler's letter and will make the recommended changes to get the petition on the ballot.
"We appreciate the manager's assistance in getting back to us and we'll follow through," Edwards said.
In an interview, members of the group stressed they support a town form of government because they feel it is the purest form of democracy.
Horsfield said residents vote directly on the operating budget in a town as opposed to a city where the council sets the budget.
"I would like to see a town form of government where people have more say," he said.
Beals said putting the issue on the November ballot would give residents an opportunity to decide what form of government they want.
"We have no political axes to grind," he said.
According to the Berlin history website, Berlin was chartered as a town in 1829 and became a city in 1897.
Edwards said anyone with questions or suggestions about the petition effort is urged to contract the group at Berlin City Charter Petition Group, P.O. Box 202, Berlin, 03570