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The Council's Resistance To Change



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The Council’s Resistance To Change

Newtown’s Legislative Council has scheduled a public hearing on the changes to the town’s charter proposed by the Charter Revision Commission for July 11 at 7:30 in Edmond Town Hall. Hearings are supposed to give the townspeople the opportunity to voice opinions on issues of importance so that their elected representatives may better represent them when deciding those issues. That’s the way it is supposed to work, but the leaders of the Legislative Council have given every indication that they have already made up their minds about the proposed charter changes. The hearing will be just another formality for them to endure before they vote the charter changes down. This is what concerns us:

Ÿ At the Charter Revision Commission’s May 30 public hearing on its proposals, Legislative Council Vice Chairman Melissa Pilchard rises to tell the commission that she disagrees with “virtually every sentence” in their proposal while also complaining that she hadn’t received the panel’s report in time to read it thoroughly. She also likened the proposal to give the first selectman veto power over council decisions to the power accorded to Hitler.

Ÿ Two weeks ago, Mrs Pilchard tried to have the nine months of work by the Charter Revision Commission declared null and void, asserting that the council had violated state statutes in creating the panel with less than a two-thirds vote. That might have been the case if the council had not also violated Roberts’ Rules by trying to rescind a previous two thirds vote creating the commission at a meeting in September. The first error, according to the town’s attorney, nullified the second, and the council ended up appointing a legally constituted Charter Revision Commission in spite of itself.

Ÿ Last week, council chairman Pierre Rochman announced that the council may not finish its deliberations on the charter in time to get it on the November 6 ballot. He called the Election Day date “meaningless,” and suggested that the complexity of the proposed charter changes was an acceptable excuse for the council to miss its deadline.

Ÿ This week, Mr Rochman suggested that townspeople don’t really care about the charter and how their government does its business. “Do they care to know what changes are being proposed?” he asked. “I don’t think so.” He went on to criticize the Charter Revision Commission’s work, saying, “They’ve made it unnecessarily complicated.”

The problem the council leaders have with the proposed charter changes is obvious. They don’t like any proposals that reverse in any way the growing powers the council has assumed over the years. The irony is that the council itself set the stage for the sweeping changes proposed by the Charter Revision Commission by giving the panel a rather disorganized charge in 28 parts that forced a wide ranging inquiry into Newtown’s government and its areas of weakness. And one of the more glaring weaknesses is the growing imbalance of power in local government.

Unfortunately, the town may never get to decide whether the Charter Revision Commission’s proposals to address this imbalance are good ones because among the council’s powers is the power to approve or reject proposed charter changes. The comments and actions of the chairman and vice chairman of the Legislative Council in recent weeks suggest that the council is preparing to protect its turf, blocking the revision proposals from ever reaching the ballot in November, if necessary.

 We don’t know how the whole council stands on these issues. Most members, to their credit, have not engaged in the campaign of prejudicial comments undertaken by their leadership prior to the public hearing. Let’s hope that as they listen to the public on July 11, they allow themselves to think outside the box of the council’s self-interest and hubris and remain open to the possibility that there may be another, perhaps better, way to run the town.

We don’t agree that Newtowners don’t care how their government is run. We don’t agree that the charter revision proposals are too complicated for them to understand. And we don’t agree that it is somehow okay for the council to blow off its responsibility to conclude its discussions on the charter changes in time to present them to the public on November 6. Schedule more meetings if you must, Mr Rochman, but get the job done! Election Day is not “meaningless.” It is the time when the most voters will be focusing on local issues and town government. It is the time when Newtown traditionally votes on charter changes. And this year it will be the time when Newtown learns what the Legislative Council values most – its own welfare or the town’s.

The Final Report of the Charter Revision Commission can be found in its entirety on The Bee’s Web site, www.NewtownBee.com. We urge everyone to read it and to let the council know what you think at the July 11 hearing.

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