Public comes out for Charter hearing

PROSPECT — About 40 people filled the Town Hall assembly room last week for a public hearing on a host of proposed Charter revisions, but two potential changes dominated the discussion.

Those who addressed the Charter Revision Commission did so mostly to voice opposition to making the town clerk, town treasurer and tax collector appointed rather than elected positions, and new language that would allow the Town Council to enter into a written agreement with the Volunteer Fire Department of Prospect.

The feeling among those who spoke was that appointing the town clerk, town treasurer and tax collector would take power away from the voters.

Resident Scott Martin said it is an unnecessary change. He supported creating job descriptions for the positions that are defined for candidates, but felt the people need to maintain the power of their votes.

“It should be left up to the people of the town to vote for each of these positions as they have in the past,” he said.

Under the proposed change, the mayor would appoint the town clerk, town treasurer and tax collector with the consent — majority vote — of the council. The thought behind the change is to ensure the town gets the best qualified person for the job and has the ability to remove the person for cause.

Tax Collector Diane Lauber told the commission a process is already in place to find the best candidates. She said the Democratic and Republican town committees find the best candidates among the electorate, and then the voters choose who they feel is best for the jobs.

Lauber added the three positions all have strong associations behind them to provide training and support.

The proposed revisions also include new language that states, “The Town Council may enter into a written agreement with the Volunteer Fire Department of Prospect, Inc. for protection of the Town from fire and other services. Written agreements concerning financial assistance to the Volunteer Fire Department of Prospect, Inc. shall be conditioned on budgetary appropriations for the protection of the Town from fire and other services.”

This change elicited concerns from members of the fire department, a nonprofit organization that is separate from the town.

“We’ve been incorporated for 70 years across the street with no formal agreement between the town and the organization,” Assistant Fire Chief William Lauber told the commission. “We just kind of feel if it’s not broken don’t fix it.”

Fire Chief Jason Kolodziej said the town has been kind to the department with what it gives to it through the budget. He questioned whether the change would lead to a town commission overseeing the operations of the department and non-experts making decisions on department purchases.

“I do not believe a written agreement is needed,” he said.

After the public hearing was closed, the commission discussed the proposed changes with the public’s comments in mind.

The underlining message from the commission was that the two controversial changes were proposed with an eye to the future.

Commission member Katie Blinstrubas, who is the Democratic registrar of voters, said the demands of the town clerk, town treasurer and tax collector positions are constantly evolving with new technology and programs, but the town has no say in requiring elected officials to keep up with the changes.

“It’s not talking about what we have now,” she said. “It’s looking toward the future.”

Commission member Paul Krisavage described Diane Lauber as the best tax collector in the state. He felt the town can ensure the standard she set is maintained by appointing her successor.

“I like what I have right now,” he said. “Somehow I want to see that standard set continue.”

Not everyone on the commission is in favor of the change.

Commission member Robert Hiscox said he understands the reasoning why the commission brought up the change, but feels the positions should remain elected ones. He said the public comments confirmed his belief.

“The town is not ready to have those elected positions taken away from the voters of the town,” he said.

Hiscox suggested not moving forward with the proposed change, but the majority of the commission felt otherwise.

As for the proposal for a written agreement with the fire department, commission members said the intent is to ensure the town’s great relationship with the department continues.

Krisavage said the dynamic in town could change in the future. He said the proposal is a positive reflection on the great service of the department.

Members also emphasized that the change says “may” enter into an agreement and that it is not a mandate.

The commission has been combing the Charter since last fall. It’s the first time the Charter has been reviewed since 2000.

The proposed changes also include, allowing the mayor to cast a vote to elect the chairman of the council only if the vote remains a tie after three votes, allowing the council to establish a compensation plan for all town employees not covered by collective bargaining agreements, limiting the number of consecutive annual audits performed by the same accountant or same firm to five, and mandating that all boards, commissions and the council post their activities on the town webpage.

The commission and the council will meet May 26 to discuss the final revisions recommended by the commission. The council will decide what, if any, proposed changes go on the ballot in November. Ultimately, voters will decide their fate.