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Council Aims To Simplify Ballot For Complex Charter Revision



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The Legislative Council and the town attorney seem to agree on making November balloting for the most complex charter revision in Newtown's history as easy as possible for voters. Qualified residents are expected to flock to Newtown polling places to cast their presidential ballots, and will be asked to endorse or reject just two charter revision proposals.

The issue of approving a sweeping charter overhaul, along with discussion on properly scripting those two ballot measures along with added explanatory language, was on the agenda when the council gathered June 29 for a special meeting.

After quickly, formally and unanimously voting to put the revision proposal before voters November 8, council members dug into proposed ballot language along with Charter Revision Commission Chairman Jeff Capeci and Town Attorney Dave Grogins.

Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob opened the discussion explaining why a two-question ballot measure was likely the best and most efficient way to put the complex reconstituting of Newtown's constitutional guide book to a vote.

The latest charter revision involved an overall reconfiguring and cleaning up of dozens of so-called "housekeeping" issues, including disjointed references, missing or verbose language and a lack of overall continuity. After about a yearlong process, the charter commission produced the best possible version in response to their core charge to make the document more practically usable and reader-friendly for Newtown citizens.

No decision on ballot language was reached June 29. But council members and Mr Grogins concurred on asking voters to endorse or reject the entire revision - except for a single breakout question involving what was arguably the most provocative subject that surfaced during the revision process.

That subject involves asking voters in a single breakout question, whether to approve or reject a 4-3 party split for the purposes of minority representation on the Board of Education. If that revision fails, a current 5-2 split consistent with state statutes remains in effect.

The council learned that breaking out that single question, and asking voters to otherwise approve or reject the entire balance of revisions, also serves if the larger measure fails, because any approved change to minority representation can also be drafted as a single change into the existing charter language.

Among the subjects that came up during discussion was whether to put the breakout question first on the ballot, with the comprehensive revision question following, or putting the larger revision question first. A concern over the first draft language for the BOE breakout question was also covered, with Mr Grogins advising council members to take a couple of weeks to consider and come up with the least confusing way to present the main and breakout measures to voters.

The town attorney said to avoid rejection by the Secretary of the State's Office, the ballot questions must begin with the word "Shall," and be resolved with a Yes or No response. Ms Jacob requested all ideas on redrafting the ballot language be sent to her ahead of the council's next regular meeting.

Ms Jacob then appointed a Charter Revision Communication and Education Committee, which is charged with public outreach and helping voters understand the complex charter overhaul.

Council Vice Chair Paul Lundquist and council member Judit DeStefano will be joined on that committee with Mr Capeci and fellow Charter Commissioner Deborra Zukowski.

Ms Jacob is advising that the committee spend July and August formulating their public outreach strategies and implementing them through September and October leading up to November 8 balloting.

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