Commission turns to public for opinion

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NAUGATUCK — After months of researching and debating potential changes to the Town Charter, the Charter Revision Commission approved a preliminary list of revisions to present to the public.

A difference of opinion remains among commissioners on some of the major proposed changes. However, the commission voted, June 9, to send its preliminary report to a public hearing to give the people an opportunity to speak on the issues.

The report includes seven proposed Charter changes. The biggest proposed revision is switching the borough to a town manager style of government.

The change would eliminate the mayor position as it is currently known in Naugatuck. In its place, a town manager would be hired to run the day-to-day operations of the borough. Under a town manager form of government the Board of Burgesses would remain the town’s legislative and policy making body.

Switching to a town manager has been the most divisive revision amongst commissioners.

Proponents of a town manager have argued the switch would ensure Naugatuck has the most qualified person running the borough, rather than the most popular. Advocates of the move also feel that a town manager would bring more stability to Naugatuck government and would take politics out of decision making.

Andrew Bottinick, chair of the commission, said he strongly believes at town manager is necessary for Naugatuck to grow as a town. He felt that in the past town leaders have made several short-sighted mistakes due to political pressure.

“We have done a lot of disservice to the town because of politics and I think we need to take the politics out of the decisions,” Bottinick said.

Opponents of the switch have argued that a town manager would take away the people’s power to vote on the borough’s leader.
They said a town manager could be disconnected from the public.

“I think people want to go see a mayor who’s a strong mayor and is going to feel their pain,” commissioner Leonard Caine said.
Advocates of a town manager admitted the plan is going to be a tough one to sell to the public.

“My personal reservation is it’s going to take a lot to sell the public on it,” said commissioner Brian Gregorio, a strong proponent of a town manager. “It may fail this time but I think we’re laying the ground work.”

A proposal to make budget referendums automatic in Naugatuck has also led to differing views on the commission.

Currently, if voters want to vote on the budget, they have to force a referendum through a petition process. Up to three referendums can be held, but each one has to be forced by a petition.

Commissioner David Cronin has been pushing for a Charter change that would make a budget referendum automatic.

“I believe people in Naugatuck really want the opportunity to vote on how the town’s spending their money,” Cronin said.

Opponents of an automatic referendum have contended that most people don’t understand what really goes into the budget, and how the numbers are crunched.

“All they see are the numbers,” said commissioner Bob Neth, who is a burgess and has served on the Board of Finance.

The commission’s preliminary report includes a proposal to make a budget referendum automatic. Under the proposal, up to five referendums would be held. If they all failed, the budget would be reduced by 2 percent.

There is a favorable consensus among the commission on the other five items comprising the preliminary report. Rounding out the proposal is changing the date of the municipal elections from May to November, doubling the length of the mayor’s term from two years to four, making the town clerk and tax collector hired positions instead of elected positions, and eliminating outdated sections of the Charter.

The last proposal is the elimination of Charter language that dictates the town’s bidding policy. The commission wants to eliminate this language in order to pave the way for the borough to create an ordinance that includes a local bidder preference policy.

A local bidder policy, under the proposal, would give Naugatuck contractors the opportunity to match the low bid on a job if their offer is within a certain percentage of the lowest bid.

A public hearing will be held in July on the commission’s preliminary report. After the hearing the commission will review the issues and approve its draft report to send to the Board of Mayor of Burgesses.

As of this post, the public hearing had not been scheduled.