Board seeks clarity on proposed Charter changes

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Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi, left, speaks during a special Board of Mayor and Burgesses Nov. 3 on the proposed Charter revisions as Mayor Robert Mezzo listens. ELIO GUGLIOTTI

NAUGATUCK — Before the Board of Mayor and Burgesses weighs in on proposed changes to the town Charter, borough officials want to be sure they have a clear picture of the proposed revisions.

“I’d like to be certain what I’m recommending,” said Mayor Robert Mezzo, following a Nov. 3 public hearing on the Charter Revision Commission’s draft report.

After months of work, the commission submitted its draft report to the board in October. The report is comprised of seven conceptual changes, the most significant of which includes implementing a town manger form of government in the borough. The idea is to hire a town manager to run the day-to-day operations of borough government. The Board of Mayor and Burgesses would remain the legislative body of the borough, but the mayor’s position would become more akin to a burgess, and the mayor’s salary would be significantly lowered to one similar to what a burgess makes.

The town manager style of government was one of the most divisive issues among commission members. Ultimately, when it came time to make a recommendation to the board, the commission split 4-4 on whether to switch to a town manager. So, the commission sent two options to the board, either make the switch or to keep the current form of government.

Since the draft report didn’t have a recommendation on the town manager issue, borough attorney N. Warren “Pete” Hess said the board couldn’t approve the change if it wanted to.

“The way (the draft report) is it doesn’t have in it a change in town of government,” Hess said.

The draft report also included three proposals for how to change the budget referendum process instead of one clear recommendation.

Along with needing clear, collective recommendations, Hess said the commission is also supposed to provide specific changes to the language in the Charter to coincide with each recommendation.

“We’re really looking for specific language changes to the Charter,” Hess told the board.

Without the language changes, and clear recommendations in the draft report there was a feeling from some on the board that the report was unclear.

“It’s not clear enough for me,” Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi said. “I don’t know what I’m supporting or not supporting.”

Andrew Bottinick, chair of the commission, told the board that commission members were under the impression that they were to develop ideas, and then the board would vet them out.

“Our understanding was that we were concepts,” Bottinick said.

The commission is facing a deadline to give the board the clarity and specific Charter language it needs. Under state statutes, which govern the charter revision process, the commission has 30 days from the date the board sends the draft report back to it to submit its final report. If that timeframe isn’t meant the process would have to start over again.

Bottinick felt confident the commission could get the board more detailed information on the proposals within the 30-day window. However, it was unclear whether changes to the Charter’s language could be drafted in time, specifically for the town manager proposal, which would require substantial changes to the Charter.

In order to buy the commission more time, the board approved a motion to hold a second public hearing Nov. 16 on the draft report. The 30-day window would go into effect following this hearing.

Along with a town manager form of government and changes to the budget referendum process the draft report includes switching the municipal elections from May to November, eliminating some outdated sections of the Charter, and eliminating the bidding process language from the Charter so that it can be rewritten as an ordinance to give officials more flexibility.

The report also includes a proposal to extend the mayor’s term to four years. The change, if approved, would take effect after the 2013 election.

The last recommendation in the report is to eliminate the selectman and treasurer positions along with eliminating the tax collector and the town clerk positions as elected positions. Instead, the positions would be filled through a hiring process.