Council seeks clarity on resident elector requirement

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PROSPECT — When voters rejected all the proposed Charter revisions on Election Day, it left more questions than answers regarding one specific section of the Charter.

The Charter states, “All appointive offices shall be filled by resident electors of the Town unless there is no resident elector who is properly qualified. … Any person appointed to a Town office as a resident elector of the Town who ceases to be a resident elector of the Town during the term of the office shall thereupon cease to hold the appointive office.”

The Charter exempts the town attorney from this requirement.

The Charter Revision Commission sought to amend the language so the Charter allowed the town to hire employees or appoint officers for town positions without a requirement that they be resident electors.

Voters soundly rejected this question, along with the four others up for a vote, on Election Day. The Town Council is now trying to determine what impact the existing language in the Charter will have on the town since there are several appointed officials who do not live in Prospect.

“We are in a situation where we have some people that the Charter might say should not be working here right now,” said Town Council Chairman Tom Galvin during a discussion on the issue at the council’s Dec. 20 meeting.

The discussion was spurred by a Dec. 6 letter from Paul Krisavage, who served on the Charter Revision Commission, to the council. In the letter, Krisavage points out that Prospect police Lt. Nelson Abarzua, who is the appointed director of public safety, no longer lives in town.

“I am requesting that the Town Council remove Mr. Abarzua from this position, as it is a violation of the Town Charter,” Krisavage wrote in the letter.

Galvin, who was also a member of the Charter Revision Commission, agreed that the language in the charter did apply, but said it went beyond just Abarzua.

“Having defeated that [proposed change] and going strictly by the language in the existing Charter, it would appear that once an appointed official in town left the town, he would have to resign from that position which he had been appointed. That would be clear in the existing Charter,” Galvin said.

The problem is that the Charter doesn’t specific exactly what positions are considered appointed and what positions are considered employed, Galvin said.

“Even the Charter Revision Commission had quite a bit of difficulty trying to decipher the difference between the meaning in employed or appointed. Certainly a regular employee should be able to be hired. But the existing Charter had some specific things about being appointed,” Galvin said.

Town Council member Doug Merriman pointed out that the town’s police officers might also fall under the category of being appointed rather than employed. If so, he said, that would mean only three or four of the town’s 17 part-time officers may be allowed to stay on the force.

Galvin said the town would need to contact its attorney before making any decision on how to move forward.

“I don’t think we have a firm understanding of those things. There are some ambiguities there that I think that should end up with the attorney,” Galvin said.

The council is seeking clarity on the issue, including what positions are appointed and which ones are employed, from the town’s legal counsel. The council took no action on the issue last week as it awaits word from the town’s attorney, but the discussion continued amongst the council members.

The revision that would have removed the resident elector requirement from the Charter received the most “No” votes of all the five questions. Town Council member Carla Perugini-Erickson said the fact that so many people voted this way shows it’s the will of the town to follow the Charter.

“It makes it pretty clear to me. If there were the most ‘No’ votes on this residency requirement, clearly the will of the town of Prospect is to make sure all appointed people are residents of the town of Prospect. Well guess what, they’re not. It’s an issue,” Perugini-Erickson said.

Town Council member Jeff Slapikas said the council has to move quickly on this issue.

“We have people that are in limbo now because the Charter [revisions] failed. They don’t know if they are working in town, if they are going to lose their job, or whatever. We need to try to come up with a solution to that,” Slapikas said.

Town Council member Patricia Geary said the proposed change would have taken care of the issue.

“The bottom-line is that it is a shame that revision didn’t pass. One of the reasons that revision was written was to cover the situation that existed that we knew about where employees had moved,” Geary said.