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Charter Revision Commission Approves BOE Revisions



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Following approval of a revision to the charter to eliminate the Board of Finance (BOF), the Charter Revision Commission (CRC) continued its work making revisions to accommodate that change as well as approving a number of revisions requested by the Board of Education (BOE).

Before a January 24 meeting, commissioners made inquiries with Town Attorney David Grogins, including whether CRC members will have to go through the entire charter to remove items and add new verbiage related to the BOF. Concerning the effective date of any charter revisions, Grogins noted that the date the changes go into effect would be 30 days after their approval by voters, unless the language of the revision specified an effective date.

The CRC decided it will inquire with Finance Director Bob Tait about his preferences on effective date. CRC Chairman Andy Buzzi suggested setting the effective date for December 1, when most boards’ and commissions’ terms start.

The CRC looked at a number of revisions to section 6-35 of the charter, concerning Special and Emergency Appropriations. The CRC revisions remove mentions of the Board of Finance and separating special appropriations and emergency appropriations. The CRC unanimously approved the revisions.

The CRC reviewed section 1-25, which defines town departments, noting that the charter “routinely refers to ‘town bodies’ and ‘town bodies other than the Board of Education,’” so a revision to “simply use ‘other than the Board of Education’ where appropriate may be an efficient solution than changing all references to town bodies and the Board of Education in the charter.” The CRC decided to review the change at a future meeting with a list of specific places that need to be changed.

The ‘Ex Officio’ Question

Next, the CRC looked at section 201(d), which makes the first selectman an ex officio member of all boards and commissions in town, including the BOE. The CRC was asked to look at removing the first selectman as an ex officio member on the BOE, and make the superintendent of schools the ex officio for that board.

According to revision documents, the BOE “questions the consistency with the rest of the Newtown government structure in which the Board of Selectmen have a role parallel to the Board of Education, and the superintendent has a role parallel to that of the first selectman.”

CRC member Jim Gaston said he didn’t see the need for a change, and the first selectman should also be an ex officio member of the BOE.

“He’s the executive officer of the town,” said Gaston. “I understand that there may be at some point a conflict of interest, but a first selectman would recuse himself. I don’t see the problem, not enough to remove ex officio status from the first selectman.”

CRC member Tony Filiato said that the first selectman “is the chief executive, voted on by the voters.”

“We are one town, the BOE is not off on its own some place,” said Filiato.

Buzzi said that having been a member of the BOE himself, he “doesn’t remember a time the first selectman attended a BOE meeting.” However, the “BOE is not an island.”

“It’s important to encourage working together of all sections of government,” said Buzzi. “By making the first selectman an ex officio, it shows respect. They need the town to do what they do. It’s important for the first selectman to be able to be involved and know what they’re doing. The BOE budget dwarfs the town budget. I think it’s right and appropriate for the first selectman to be ex officio.”

While a motion was made and seconded to leave the first selectman as ex officio of the BOE, the vote was tabled due to language needing to be completed.

Filling Vacancies

For Section 2-31(c), the CRC unanimously approved revisions to bring the BOE time frame to fill vacancies to be consistent with previously approved revisions to other boards and commissions. The BOE members of the same political party as the vacancy will now have 45 days to fill a vacancy within its ranks.

If the vacancy is not filled after 45 days, the entire BOE can approve an appointment to the vacancy; if not filled after 90 days, the chairman of the BOE shall appoint the successor. Should all seats on the BOE become simultaneously vacant, a special election will be held.

In Section 3-15, concerning elections, a section was added for the BOE which says the “number of votes given to an elector in an election year shall be equal to the number of seats up for election in said year;” “each political party shall have the right to nominate as many persons as there are vacancies on the board, and those names shall be placed upon the ballot;” and “if the number of candidates who would be elected exceeds the maximum number established in the town Charter, then only the candidates of such political party with the highest number of votes up to the limit of such maximum shall be elected.” The addition was approved unanimously.

In Section 4-05, the charter will be revised so the town’s finance director will not serve the BOE, as the BOE has its own. The revision was approved unanimously.

Section 6-20(f)2, concerning budget referenda, was modified for language, clarifying wording around the fact that the Legislative Council cannot amend a budget proposal to exceed the amounts recommended by the Board of Selectmen and the BOE.

Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

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