Public input lacking for charter changes

Secretary of the Charter Revision Commission Lenny Caine, left, looks over the current charter with Vice-Chair Sarah Poynton.

NAUGATUCK – A weak turnout for the Charter Revision Committee’s first public hearing Wednesday night meant a brief meeting.

“I don’t think people understand how important this document is,” said Burgess Tamath Rossi, who attended the meeting to see what the public had to say.

The charter, much like a constitution, governs how the town of Naugatuck works, she said.

In addition to Rossi and Burgess Henry Kuczenski, two members of the public attended.

Both were senior citizens who thought that the charter should be changed to make the budget go to automatic referendum.

Antoinette Cronin and Jim Kelly both said that Naugatuck has a lot of retirees who can’t afford their taxes and think they should have a say in the budget process.

“I believe that we should have the privilege of voting on our budgets,” Kelly said.

Kelly retired from Uniroyal and doesn’t get much in pension, he said. In addition, his health insurance has increased almost eight fold in recent years, he said.

Cronin, who works with Naugatuck Taxpayers in Revolt, pointed out that many surrounding towns have automatic referendums for their budgets.

Currently, if citizens aren’t happy with the budget, they must petition and collect over 2,000 signatures to force a referendum.

If voters still aren’t happy after the second referendum, the government must cut the budget by $1, according to the charter.

Cronin thought there should be at least three referendums and a requirement that the budget must be cut substantially if it isn’t passed.

If the budget isn’t passed, citizens could voice their opinions on what should be changed at a public meeting, Cronin said.

“I think you would get more out there voicing their opinion. … It would make it easier for the people,” she said.

Cronin also suggested re-writing the charter in layman’s language so people don’t need to hire a lawyer to interpret it.

Lenny Caine, secretary of the commission, agreed that the charter’s language is antiquated.

During the previous charter revision effort, he took out a lot of antiquated language, including references to freemen, positions that no longer exist, and a requirement that citizens reside in Naugatuck for 60 days before they are eligible to vote in town. However, those changes were never enacted and the charter remains intact with language from 150 years ago.

“It’s archaic and needs modernization,” he said.

In response to Cronin and Kelly’s other concerns, Caine said that their requests have been voiced many times over the years and it is something the committee should talk about.

Caine said he wasn’t sure what to expect at the committee’s first meeting, and added that many people don’t have time to participate in government.

Committee vice-chair Sarah Poynton said she wished there was more public involvement with the revisions. She predicted after the changes are made, people will come out and ask why other changes weren’t made.

“Now’s their time,” Poynton said.

The Board of Mayor and Burgesses tasked the Charter Revision Commission with looking at changes to the Town Charter, including increasing the term for mayor and burgesses from two to four years, changing the language regarding the Fire and Police Commissions employment authority to require involvement by the Borough Human Resource Department, change the language in the Finance Department section of the charter regarding preferences in the bid process for borough-based business, change the timing of the borough’s municipal election from May to November and any other matters the Charter Revision Commission deems appropriate.

Caine said the date of elections could be moved without a charter revision.

The commission will discuss the public’s input and their own ideas at their next meeting, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m.

The commission will probably hold another public hearing before it drafts a report for the Board of Mayor and Burgesses in September, Poynton said.