Council To Have Counsel Review Charter Revisions
The Legislative Council at its May 4 meeting recommended that an outside counsel review the Charter Revision Commission’s draft report of proposed charter revisions.
“I think having another set of eyes on it is worthwhile,” said Councilman Ryan Knapp.
The council voted 11 to 1 — with Councilman Tom Long opposing — to send the draft to outside counsel, if possible, otherwise to Town Counsel, for a review “limited to any inconsistencies, unintended consequences or conflicts within or with statute, and charge that the scope of the review not expand to include reconsidering actions taken or not taken by the Charter Revision Commission.”
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said that the town can either use its own town counsel, Town Attorney David Grogins, which would be mostly covered in the town’s retainer, or have an outside counsel review it at additional cost.
One of the main proposed recommendations is to eliminate the Board of Finance. CRC Chairman Andy Buzzi noted that his commission’s sentiment was that the Legislative Council has the overall fiscal authority.
CRC member James Gaston said that at the beginning of the process, he and others on the commission felt that the BOF should be in place. However, after lengthy discussions and meetings, they came to the agreement to propose eliminating it.
Buzzi reiterated that this was not a quick easy decision — it was a very long deliberate discussion, meeting at least twice a month over the course of the last three months.
Rosenthal recommended every member of the council should read and review the draft on their own and come up with their own set of questions.
Buzzi said that the public hearing must be held on or before June 6. The Council will then have 15 days to get revisions back to the CRC. Although some Council members expressed concern over the time frame, the First Selectman said this timeline is set by statute.
Councilman William DeRosa expressed some concern on the timeline, as some of the suggested revisions are a “big deal.”
“We have a lot of stuff to get done,” said DeRosa. “This is a big change to make, and we have a lot of work to do.”
The following are the CRC’s recommendations for charter revisions: To clarify that the BOE shall be exempted from such duties prescribed for town departments if such duties are inconsistent with their statutory authority; to add to the charter the purpose, membership, and terms for the Fairfield Hills Authority; to add clarifying language stating that in case of any conflict between board/commission/committee bylaws, the town charter and/or state statute prevails; to permit members of town bodies to abstain from the approval of minutes of a meeting they did not attend. The current requirement is that every member present is to vote affirmatively or negatively on each question raised except in cases of conflict of interest; to add the procedure for filling vacancies on the BOE to section 2-31; to increase the time from 45 to 90 days to fill a vacancy on appointive boards and commissions to provide appropriate flexibility in appointing new members; and to restore the council as the town’s sole fiscal authority by eliminating the BOF from the charter.
Also, to add “Registrar of Vital Statistics” as a responsibility of the town clerk to align the charter with Connecticut general statutes; to add “Civilian Review Board” as a responsibility of the Board of Police Commissioners to align the charter with Connecticut general statutes; to remove the Building Appeals Board from the charter, no legislative history nor purpose nor meaning has been found to keep this board in the charter, additionally, the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning and Zoning Commission cover all aspects and purposes; to add “or a reduction in environmental impact” to the summary of general responsibilities of the Sustainable Energy Commission as a clarification; to incorporate the provisions of Newtown Ordinance 124, which governs elections of the BOE, into the charter; to clarify that the BOE has its own finance director (separate from the town); to revise language regarding the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for the town to broaden the current language from a five‐year plan to a plan of at least five years with annual adjustments; and to clarify that regulations that are proposed to be adopted, amended, or repealed by the council will be referred to the BOS, BOE, or other town bodies, as their interests are affected, at least 90 days prior to approval by the council.
Also, to clarify the language related to budget amendments, in the event that a budget fails at referendum, in order to make the intent and process clear; to clarify and define authorities and limits related to special appropriations versus emergency appropriations made by the council; council can authorize Special Appropriations up to a cumulative amount not to exceed $1,500,000 in one fiscal year. Amounts in excess must go to referendum; council can authorize emergency appropriations up to a cumulative amount not to exceed one mill on the most recently completed Grand List during one fiscal year. Amounts in excess must go to referendum; to authorize the BOE to request a special or emergency appropriation (currently only the BOS or the council can request); and to specify that only dollars that are derived from local sources of tax revenue will be counted as part of the caps and limits on special and emergency appropriations.
Some items the CRC considered that did not become recommendations in the draft report include changes to charter language that would make the first selectman no longer an ex officio member of the Board of Education; making the Board of Education an eight-person board with a maximum of four members from one party; and changing the language of the charter to be gender neutral.
Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.