To the Editor:
I am writing to ask for the community’s support related to an important issue under review right now by the hard working Charter Revision Committee.
As some of you may recall, during the 2013 elections for Board of Education seats, controversy arose when one Newtown political party seated five of the seven member seats, despite a town charter rule intended to limit the number of seats of any one political party to a maximum of four.
In 2008, the town approved the addition of a seventh BOE seat to the six that were in place at the time. The purpose was to encourage greater public participation in town politics. It was an important change and has already proven effective. As part of that change, the language was also intended to limit the number of seats held by any one party to four. However, in the resulting town charter language, the original intent is not as clear as it could be.
Here is how the recommended change to the Charter was explained to the public by Newtown’s Registrar in an April 18, 2008 Newtown Bee article in advance of the 2008 referendum.
"Currently there is a maximum of three members from any party on the six-member Board of Education. This amendment would increase the total number of members to seven, and allow up to four members from any one political party. This vacancy will be filled by the current Board of Education, and the appointee would serve until the November 2009 local election."
Unfortunately, in 2013, despite the charter rule and the record of original intent, one party was allowed by the town’s attorney to seat five members, based on what I consider to be a very convoluted, cherry-picked interpretation that ignored the clear record of original intent. In 2008, the town attorney was asked by the committee to prepare explanatory text but we cannot find that record. You can read more about these opinions in the October 25, 2013 Newtown Bee article.
Even more confusing is that the town attorney claimed his interpretation had the support of the Secretary of the State’s office, which just days earlier expressed support for the opposite opinion. When I later asked the Secretary of the State for clarification, I was told in no uncertain terms that her office “does not get involved in town charter rulings or opinions, period.”
So right now, a new committee looking at this issue has the opportunity to strengthen the charter rule so that the original intent is clear. This is only one of many issues they are tasked with addressing, so if you support the original intent of the 2008 committee, please let the new committee know before they move on to their next topic.
Thank you for your support,
24 Old Farm Hill Road, Newtown April 1, 2015