Charter revisions unlikely for May ballot

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NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck’s elected officials are eager to enact changes to the town’s 127-year-old charter, but proposed revisions aren’t likely to be ready to go to referendum on May’s ballot.

Tuesday, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses authorized a Charter Revision Commission to explore possible updates to the charter.
The whole process of revising the charter would take at least 150 days, according to Town Attorney Ned Fitzpatrick. Although it would be technically possible, most board members agreed the timeframe was too tight to fit in before the election. The board may decide to hold a special election for the referendum or wait until the 2012 presidential elections, which are likely to have a higher turnout and won’t cost the town extra money.

“I don’t want to get this lost,” said Burgess Robert Neth, who advocated completing the process as soon as possible.

Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi agreed it was important that the commission’s work comes to fruition, but cautioned they shouldn’t rush to push it through.

Although the board can’t mandate what areas the commission addresses, it recommended the commission look at increasing the term for mayor and burgesses from two to four years, changing the language regarding the Fire and Police Commissions employment authority to require involvement by the Borough Human Resource Department, change the language in the Finance Department section of the charter regarding preferences in the bed process for borough-based business, change the timing of the borough’s municipal election from May to November and any other matters the Charter Revision Commission deems appropriate.

The items on the commission’s agenda are substantial, according to Fitzpatrick, and deserve thoughtful analysis.

The board held off on appointing members to the commission until next week to give them time to consider adding Burgess Mike Ciacciarella, who was on the Charter Revision Subcommittee and wished to be included. If Ciacciarella is added to the proposed list, the board will have to add one other person to comply with the rule that one-third of a commission’s members may not hold public office. Other names under consideration include M. Leonard Caine, III, Esquire, David Cronin, Brian Gregorio, Christian Herb, Dorothy Hoff, Burgess Robert Neth, and Sarah Poynton. No one raised objections to any of those names at Tuesday’s meeting. A ninth committee member could be either a Republican or Democrat and still comply with the rule that no one party can have more than a simple majority. The committee can have up to 15 members, but board members agreed it would be easier for the commission to accomplish its goals with fewer people.

Once the commission is formed, it must hold several public hearings, create a draft report, review any changes suggested by the Board of Mayor and Burgesses, and submit it to the board for approval to be put on a ballot.

“The public should influence the agenda,” Fitzpatrick said, noting public participation is crucial.

The process was designed to be cumbersome, he said, so make sure charter changes aren’t subject to whim or capriciousness.

“It’s a revolving and evolving process,” he said.

No matter what revisions the committee comes up with, the public will have to vote on each item in referendum.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the public to decide,” Rossi said.