Board sends proposed Charter changes to hearing

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NAUGATUCK — Residents will have a chance to voice their opinions on proposed changes to the Town Charter including switching to a town manager form of government and moving municipal elections from May to November.

The Board of Mayor and Burgesses voted Tuesday to send the Charter Revision Commission’s draft report to a public hearing to be scheduled within 45 days, in compliance with state statute.

The Charter Revision Commission has been working since last December to update the old charter and propose revisions which could have a big impact on local government.

The draft report includes five proposals, but in two cases, the commission did not yet make a recommendation.

Borough attorney N. Warren “Pete” Hess said the commission will need to make a recommendation before the Board of Mayor and Burgesses can act on it.

“There are a lot of potentially big issues on the table,” Hess said.

Hess said a lot of details would have to be worked out before the proposals can go to referendum.

The commission was split 4-4 on the biggest item of the proposals, a suggestion to hire a town manager to handle the day-to-day operations of Naugatuck while the mayor would still be responsible for policy decisions.

Burgess Mike Ciacciarella, who sits on the commission, would have broken the tie with his support of the town manager government, but he was not present at the vote due to an emergency, he said Tuesday.

Charter Revision Commission Chair Andrew Bottnick said the commission felt strongly about the two options and wanted to get some feedback from the Board of Mayor and Burgesses and the public before finalizing its recommendation.

Burgess Robert Neth, who is also on the commission, said he liked the idea of a town manager but didn’t think the position, with its high salary, would fly in Naugatuck.

If the commission does make that recommendation, Hess said it would have to hash out the details of exactly what powers the town manager would have and what powers the mayor and burgesses would retain.

Bottnick said the borough has plenty of examples to draw from of other areas towns that successfully host a town manager form of government.

“We just need to make sure the wheel fits our cart,” he said.

Another charter proposal would only take effect if the town manager idea was voted down. The commission voted unanimously to change the mayor’s term from two to four years.

This proposal had enough legs to proceed as is, Hess said.

“We can do anything we want as long as there’s not a state statute that says we can’t do it,” he said.

The commission was also split over what to do about the budget referendum process. The draft report presented three options. The first option, with to revise the process to force a referendum if 10 percent of registered voters signed a petition. The proposal would also change the minimum turnout requirement for the referendum to be valid from 15 to eight percent. This year, the budget was voted down in referendum, but was ultimately adopted because less than 15 percent of registered voters participated. After the first successful petition, the budget would automatically go back to referendum, if voted down, for no more than three times. Currently, voters have to sign a new petition for each referendum. Five of the nine commissioners, including the absent Ciacciarella, support this plan. The second option, supported by Bottnick, was to remove the referendum option completely. A third option would maintain the status quo.

Members of the Charter Revision Commission unanimously supported moving municipal elections from May to November, to put them in line with most other towns in the state.

The commission recommended changing the elected offices of tax collector and town clerk to hire positions and eliminating the selectmen and treasurer positions. They also recommended allowing voters to vote on all nine burgesses, rather than six.

That last recommendation might pose a legal problem, Hess said. He said the state ruled that voters can vote for a maximum of six burgesses in a case he argued against the state in the 1970s.

The sixth proposal the commission recommended was eliminating outdated language in the charter, including sections 25, 58, 3.22, 3.11, and 22, as well as deleting references to “freemen.”

The last proposal would move the requirements for the town bidding process out of the Town Charter and leave it to town ordinances to allow town boards more flexibility to change the process without going through the trouble of changing the charter, according to Bottnick.

Neth stressed that the report was only a draft and that the commission was seeking the views of the burgesses to see if it was on the right track.

“It would require a lot of work to get to the end product,” Hess said.

Once the borough holds a public hearing, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses will have 15 days to accept, reject, or request revisions to the proposals and send them back to the Charter Revision Commission. Once the commission submits a final report, the recommendations will go to referendum.