What can (& can’t) be accomplished through changing the charter?

Many aspects of the Charter can be changed via the Charter review process from the form of government (i.e.: Town Council & Manager to Mayor) to how often the Charter Review is conducted in the future but there are some limits:

Charter change CAN...

  • restrict or increase options available to governmental leaders
  • alter electoral representation
  • clarify ambiguity or confusion caused by existing charter language
  • redistribute powers among elected officials, appointed officials, and governing bodies as well as between city officials and citizens
  • set the stage for governmental leaders to achieve desired changes such as creating positions or bodies to address identified needs
  • convert elected governmental positions to appointed positions or vice versa
  • define a Vision or set of Values that drive the decisions and evaluations of the administration and elected officials
  • alter a form of government so the new form is better aligned with the preferences of citizens


Charter change CAN’T...

  • automatically increase the quality of governmental products and services
  • eliminate political in-fighting and make elected officials achieve consensus (although governmental form can affect the likelihood of conflict and method of resolution)
  • jumpstart the local economy
  • decrease local crime
  • improve the school system
  • stop a controversial public project
  • change or eliminate state-mandated activities


Good charters set forth general principles rather than legislative details. While a certain level of control over governmental action is necessary and appropriate, balancing control with organizational and process flexibility and discretion should be the ultimate objective of any charter.

[edited from, Guide for Charter Commissions, 6th ed., National Civic League, and Model City Charter, 2nd ed. 2011, National Civic League]

Show All Answers

1. What is the Charter?
2. Where can I find a copy of the Charter?
3. Why is Watertown reviewing its Charter?
4. Why are we reviewing the Charter in 2021?
5. Why is Charter Review important?
6. What can (& can’t) be accomplished through changing the charter?
7. When does the Charter Review Committee meet?
8. How do I keep current with the Charter Review Process?
9. What information can I find on Watertown’s Charter Review website watertown-ma.gov/charter?
10. What is Watertown’s current form of Government?
11. Is Watertown a town or a city & does it matter?
12. Is Watertown going to change its official name from “The City known as the Town of Watertown” to just the City of Watertown?
13. Who decided who is on the Charter Review Committee?
14. How were the resident members of the Charter Review Committee chosen?
15. Who’s on the 2020 Charter Review Committee?
16. How can I contact the Charter Review Committee (CRC)?
17. Who approves changes recommended by the Charter Review Committee?
18. What is the timeline for Charter Review?
19. This sounds complicated; does Watertown have any help sorting this out?
20. Who should participate in Charter Review?
21. Why should I participate in the Charter Review?
22. How can I participate in Charter Review?
23. What are the main components of Watertown’s Charter?