Borough Charter changes up to voters

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NAUGATUCK — When Naugatuck voters head to the polls Nov. 6, they’ll have more to choose from than political candidates. The fate of half a dozen proposed revisions to the borough Charter rests in their hands as well.

A Charter Revision Commission spent the majority of last year exploring and debating potential Charter changes, from switching to a town manager style of government to making budget referendums automatic.

Ultimately, the commission recommended seven changes to the Board of Mayor and Burgesses. The board approved all but one — a recommendation to remove the language in the Charter that governs the borough’s bidding process — to go to the voters.

A top the list of the six questions up for a vote is whether to extend the mayor’s term from two years to four.

Opponents of the proposal felt that four years is too long and argued that if a mayor is doing a good job he or she will keep getting elected.

“It’s been working all right for the past 150 years,” said Burgess Pat Scully about the two-year term when the matter came before the board last December.

Proponents of a four-year term have argued that extending the term would give more time for mayors to implement long-term plans and for mayors new to the position to adjust to the duties before having to run for reelection.

“I believe two years is just too short,” said former Mayor and current Burgess Michael Bronko.

Bronko served one term as mayor from 2007 to 2009. Prior to being elected mayor Bronko had not held an elected political position.

Bronko said for a new mayor the first six months are spent learning the job, the next year performing the job, and then it’s back to campaigning for reelection.

“There’s not much time allocated to get things done in two years,” Bronko said.

Bronko along with former Mayor Ron San Angelo, who is also currently a burgess, strongly supported the four-year term when the matter came before the board in December.

The six Charter revision questions on the ballot Nov. 6.

San Angelo, who served as mayor from 2003 to 2007, said it’s tough to come into the position in May and have to work with another mayor’s budget. He said just as someone is starting to get things done and have one year under their own budget, they’re back campaigning

“It makes it difficult to get your job done,” he said.

Aside from having more time to adjust, Bronko and San Angelo feel a four-year term would attract more and higher qualified candidates to run for mayor.

“I think we undervalue the position of mayor,” said San Angelo.

San Angelo feels four years will help to attract more candidates because it provides more sense of job security for someone considering leaving their job to run for mayor. However, he said, the term length isn’t the only problem and pointed to the mayor’s salary of roughly $74,900 as being low compared to what a CEO of a corporation with a $100 million budget would earn.

When Mayor Robert Mezzo came into office he had the benefit of having served on the Board of Mayor and Burgesses.

“I think I had an inherited advantage of having served on the Board of Mayor and Burgesses for four years, two as deputy mayor,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo said he could see both sides of the four-year term debate.

Mezzo said he understands how it could be difficult for someone with no prior political experience to get acclimated to position and feels there are some benefits for long-term planning and better government operations with a four-year term. On the other side, Mezzo added, a two-year term offers flexibility.

The change would not directly impact Mezzo. If approved the four-year term would go into effect for the 2013 elections, meaning whoever was elected mayor in 2013 would be in office through 2017. The change would only apply to the mayor’s position. Burgesses would remain on two-year terms.

According to research provided by Brian Gregorio, a member of the Charter Revision Commission, 18 municipalities in the state have a four-year term for their chief elected officials. Six municipalities with a mayoral form of government have four-year terms for mayor — Bridgeport, Hartford, Stratford, Ledyard, Montville, and Stamford.

A four-year mayoral term is the most significant of the recommended changes, but does not stand alone on the ballot.

Voters will also decide whether to change the date of the municipal elections from May to November. If this change is enacted the 2013 local election would be held in November and the terms of currently elected officials will be extended for six months.

A slight change to the budget referendum process is also up for a vote.

The proposed revision would require the same 8 percent of voters to sign a petition in order to force the first referendum on the budget, and 15 percent voter turnout would still be required for the referendum to count. The change comes in the number of signatures required to force a second and third referendum.

Currently, 8 percent of voters need to sign a petition to force a budget vote for a second and third time. Under the proposal, that number needed for a second and third referendum would be cut in half to 4 percent.

As of last Thursday, there were 17,613 registered voters in Naugatuck. If the change passes, using this figure, the number of signatures needed to force a second or third budget referendum would drop from 1,410 to 705.

Voters will also decide whether to make the town clerk position to make the town clerk position an appointed position by the Board of Mayor and Burgesses rather than an elected position.

The thought behind the change is it would ensure the borough would get the most qualified candidate in office rather than running the risk of an unqualified candidate winning in an election.

Originally, the commission was looking at changing the town clerk and tax collector positions to hired ones. However, when it came down to it, the commission voted against changing the tax collector position and only sent the recommendation concerning the town clerk to the board.

The two remaining proposed changes are to eliminate outdated language and positions, like the Board of Public Charities, selectmen, and the Board of Relief, from the Charter.

Andrew Bottinick, who chaired the commission, said the commission spent a lot of time and energy on the recommendations and feels they are in the best interest of the borough.

“The commission feels these changes were long overdue, and we hope the citizenry agrees with us,” Bottinick said.