Charter changes elicit differing opinions

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PROSPECT — As Election Day draws near, opposition to proposed revisions to the town Charter has grown louder among certain town officials and residents.

“This will change Prospect as we know it and will cost tax dollars in the future,” said Mayor Robert Chatfield, who opposes the changes and has spoken against them during the Charter revision process, about the five Charter revision questions that will be on the ballot on Tuesday.

A Charter Revision Commission was convened in the fall to review the town Charter and recommend possible changes. The commission submitted its final recommendations to the council, which ultimately approved the five questions that will appear on the ballot, though not every council member agreed with all the suggested changes.

Saying the changes would raise taxes has been an argument made by those against the revisions. When asked how approving the changes would increase taxes, Chatfield felt the town could see a hike in legal fees from potential legal challenges to the changes or from employees.

Town Council Chairman Tom Galvin, who served on the commission, said there is nothing in the proposed changes themselves that would cause taxes to go up.

Much of the debate has centered on a proposal to make the town clerk, town treasurer and tax collector appointed rather than elected positions. Under the proposal, which is the first question, the mayor would appoint the town clerk, town treasurer and tax collector with the majority vote of the council. Those appointed would be selected from candidates chosen by a committee and serve for four-year terms, rather than being elected to two-year terms.

Those against this change contend it would take the power away from the voters to choose the people for the positions. Chatfield, who agrees with this sentiment, added that he could see a potential situation where the majority of the council and the mayor are from different political parties and it could lead to a stalemate when it comes to approving the appointments.

Those in favor of the change contend it is not a reflection of the current people in office, but it’s meant to ensure the best qualified candidates hold the jobs in the future.

Another bugaboo for some is a proposed change to language in the Charter regarding the police department.

Currently, section 7.01 of the Charter states the mayor shall appoint, with the advice and consent of the council, and supervise such number of police officers as may be deemed necessary by the council. The Charter says the council shall, by resolution, prescribe all requirements necessary for qualifying all police officer. The resolution has to be reviewed annually, under the Charter. The section also spells out the reasons an officer can be removed by a hearings board.

Under the proposed changes, section 7.01 would be removed and replaced with “The Town Council shall make provisions for Police Services as required for the Safety and Protection of the Town and its Citizens.”

Chatfield said, if the change is approved, the council would have to pass an ordinance, which could takes month, and it would take the power away from the mayor position to appoint officers.

This change is included in question five that will appear on the ballot. This question includes smaller changes, including language additions and deletions, and revisions that would need to be made to other sections of the Charter if other proposed changes are approved. It also includes areas where the council would be given the power to approve appointments made by the mayor, including the assessor and the Building Code of Appeals.

Chatfield took exception with the changes that take away some power from the mayor’s position, stating the mayor is the administrator for the town.

The proposed changes also include revisions to financial procedures in town, such as allowing the council to reduce the operating budget after its adoption granted criteria is met. This is question two on the ballot.

The third question is on a proposed change that would add language to the Charter stating that anyone appointed or hired to a compensated position in town doesn’t have to be a resident. The fourth question is a revision that would add personal interests, in addition to financial interests, to the definition of conflict of interest.

Chatfield wants voters to reject each question.

“I am vigorously urging voters to vote no on all five questions on the Charter,” he said.

Glenn Gruber, who chaired the Charter Revision Commission, said he is disappointed and surprised at the Mayor’s recommendation. He said the suggested changes are about how to ensure the town Charter keeps pace with the growth and changes which are occurring in town.

“I would have thought the Mayor would have suggested that all residents study the questions and explanations and to make their own informed decision,” he said.