With No 'Effective Date' Charter's Future Is Uncertain
With No âEffective Dateâ Charterâs Future Is Uncertain
By Steve Bigham
Bill Brimmer got word this week that he could soon be out of a job as a member of the Board of Selectmenâ¦ even if he gets reelected in November. The same is true for fellow selectman Joe Bojnowski.
An apparent oversight has created a situation where the proposed changes to the town charter â if approved â would go into effect 30 days after the election.
Charter Revision Commission members say their original intention was to have the changes go into effect two years from now â in Dec. 2003. Since an âeffective dateâ was left off the proposal to be on the ballot, however, that is no longer possible.
First Selectman Herb Rosenthal confirmed this fact Monday night, explaining that the state statutes require that all changes, upon approval by the voters, must go into effect within 30 days unless otherwise noted.
âYou could potentially elect a Board of Selectmen and on December 6, theyâre out of office,â Mr Rosenthal said. âClearly the intent of everybody was for this to take place in two years. It was just an oversight that nobody caught.â
The proposed new charter also proposes the creation of a six-member Board of Finance to work with the first selectman and Legislative Council on long-range financial planning. Right now, if changed, Mr Rosenthal, as first selectman, would be authorized to appoint all six members.
Also, the proposed changes to the town charter provide for a stronger first selectman with veto power over the Legislative Council. The possibility of this change could effect how voters look at the two candidates: Herb Rosenthal and Owen Carney.
This week, Charter Revision Commission Chairman Bill Sheluck acknowledged the problem, but said he felt confident that David Grogins, attorney for both the town and the now-disbanded Charter Revision Commission, would be able to find some way around it.
âI still think thereâs a way to address it. I think the town attorney has a fair amount of discretion with respect to some of these issues,â Mr Sheluck said. âWe made these changes with the assumption that they would not take effect until following the next election. If you go with what was intended to occur, the town attorney could make a reasonable case for ruling to that effect.â
On Wednesday, however, Mr Rosenthal was not as confident.
âWeâre still looking for ways, but David [Grogins] is not optimistic that weâre going to find something in the statutes,â he said.
In the past, any changes to the town charter went into effect two years after being approved. In those cases, according to Town Clerk Cindy Simon, an âeffective dateâ was included on the ballot.
The âomissionâ could end up being a fatal flaw in the proposal. There are some in town â including Planning & Zoning Chairman Dan Fogliano â who have indicated they would support the proposed charter changes if they were to take effect in two years. Their feelings would change, however, if those changes were rushed into effect a month after the election.
The Legislative Council took up the issue Wednesday night and members felt it was important to give Newtown residents âfull and fair disclosureâ about what has happened.
Doug Brennan suggested that the town simply add the 2003 âeffective dateâ onto the ballot.
âIt was the charter revisionâs intention, it was the first selectmanâs intention and it was this councilâs intention that the changes not take place for two years,â he said. âThese people are out campaigning and to have a sham as a vote is unconscionable.â
That would be against the law, explained Donald Studley, who suggested the council seek further legal advice to see if there is any way the âeffective dateâ could be added.
Dan Rosenthal criticized attorneys David Grogins and David Chipman who were paid a âboat load of moneyâ for their âcolossal oversightsâ in missing the flaw in their review of the charter.
âMy feeling is they really screwed up and they should be apologizing to us,â he said.