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July 6-Hearing Set On FFH Authority



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July 6—

Hearing Set On FFH Authority

By John Voket

Residents who have concerns or comments on a proposed ordinance establishing a nonpolicymaking authority at Fairfield Hills are invited to a public hearing next Wednesday, July 6, at 6:45 pm. The hearing will precede a special meeting of the Legislative Council at 7:30 pm at the C.H. Booth Library.

It is expected that, barring significant public opposition to the proposal, the council will ratify the ordinance during that special meeting. The establishment of the authority was granted by special legislative act and signed into law by Governor M. Jodi Rell in May, and is effective July 1.

But because July 1 falls on the Friday of a long holiday weekend, council members decided not to schedule a hearing for that date. It was unclear whether or not a quorum of council members could be achieved on that date. Consequently, the hearing was set for the following Wednesday, July 6.

Except for several minimal changes to the language in two sections of the ordinance proposal, the initiative was submitted as drafted by the council’s ordinance subcommittee in May 25.

The extent of those changes was to add a qualifying addendum to paragraphs five and six of the ordinance, specifically addressing how members of the authority were to gain approval for the hiring of contractors, and making budget expenditures. The council agreed to add a line at the end of each of the aforementioned paragraphs compelling the authority to act only, “at the discretion of the Board of Selectmen, the first selectman, or the purchasing authority of the town as deemed appropriate by any or all of the above.”

The legislative bill enables Newtown to authorize by ordinance a nonpolicymaking authority to manage the day-to-day operations, development, and demolition projects at Fairfield Hills, a former state hospital, which is now owned and operated by the town. According to First Selectman Herb Rosenthal, a state authorized independent authority empowered by local ordinance would not be stymied in its attempt to lease property on the campus because of a stipulation in the town’s charter.

Speaking at the last council meeting, former school superintendent John Reed, who chairs an ad hoc management committee at Fairfield Hills, said project management on the campus should not be the sole responsibility of the first selectman.

“With all due respect to the office, and the first selectman, he shouldn’t be expected to take on what will quickly become an all-consuming full-time job,” Mr Reed said.

Mr Rosenthal said the establishment of the authority permitted by legislative action enabling the local ordinance is the best possible solution for future campus management.

“The committee could have asked for the legislature to create an authority, but this would have taken away most of the opportunity for local public comment,” Mr Rosenthal said. “And while there are existing examples of this type of authority operating successfully here in town, we felt that in this case legislation would make [a Fairfield Hills] authority too powerful.”

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