Charter commission under the gun

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NAUGATUCK — Residents had their final say Wednesday on the Charter Revision Commission’s first proposed changes to the borough charter. The commission now has 30 days to submit a final report to the Board of Mayor and Burgesses.

A proposal from some commissioners for a town manager to replace the mayor as the full-time official running daily affairs in the borough was once again the main subject of debate at Wednesday’s hearing.

“I’d like to see the whole plan,” said Ron Merancy of 1074 Andrew Mountain Road, who is chairman of the Water Pollution Control Authority. “Would we be eliminating any positions? Who would be eliminated, and how would it affect the budget?”

The issue deeply divided the commission, which presented the option in its report but did not make a recommendation. The commission handled a proposal to change the budget referendum process the same way. The commission’s report included seven possible conceptual changes to the charter, but did not detail exactly how the wording of the charter would be changed.

Instead of accepting or rejecting the proposals, the borough board asked the commission for a more specific report.

“I’d like to see decisive recommendations, and following those recommendations, the language,” Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi said.

Brian Gregorio, who serves on the Charter Revision Commission and co-authored the town manager proposal, said the contracted official would be trained as a public administrator. A town manager would ensure continuity in borough government, have experience in managerial tasks such as contract negotiations and attract more businesses to the borough, Gregorio said.

“This is a monumental change,” Gregorio said. “It’s a needed change, at least in my opinion, and change in any form is going to be unpopular.”

Residents argued that a town manager would earn a higher salary than the mayor, costing taxpayers more, and would be harder to remove if he or she were not performing adequately.

The commission might not be able to work out all the details in 30 days with holidays approaching, said Burgess Robert Neth, who also serves on the commission.

“Why don’t we look at the reality of whether the town is going to the town manager system or not, instead of spinning wheels and exhausting energy over something that’s probably never going to happen?” Neth said.

Judy Crosswait, who worked as borough clerk under six mayors before retiring two years ago, said she thought the mayor should continue to run the borough full-time and should serve four-year terms. A four year term for mayor is among the commission’s proposed revisions.

“I saw it all those years, that you cannot accomplish everything you wanted to in two years,” Crosswait said. “You have to start campaigning again in a year and a half. It’s ridiculous.”

The charter revision questions will most likely hit the ballot during presidential elections next November, Mayor Robert Mezzo said.