Opinions split on major Charter change proposals

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Charter Revision Commission members Christian Herb and Burgess Robert Neth listen during a public hearing Thursday night. ELIO GUGLIOTTI

NAUGATUCK — With the Charter Revision Commission weeks away from submitting its report to the Board of Mayor and Burgesses, the commission put its proposed changes on trial in the court of public opinion.

The commission held a public hearing last night on the seven proposed Charter changes that comprise its draft report. Only six people, five of which hold a seat on a borough board, addressed the commission. The views of those who spoke were split on some of the more substantial proposals, especially when the conversation turned to a town manager form of government.

The most fundamental change proposed by the commission is switching the borough to a town manager style of government.

The change would eliminate the mayor position as it’s currently known in Naugatuck. In its place, a town manager would be hired to run the operations of the borough. Under a town manager form of government, the mayor will remain a borough official who will be responsible for policy decisions. However, the mayor position will be more akin to a burgess with a low salary. The Board of Burgesses would remain the town’s legislative and policy making body.

The change received support from two former mayors who currently are burgesses.

“To be mayor, you essentially in Naugatuck, have to be popular,” said Burgess Ron San Angelo, a former mayor.

San Angelo questioned whether the fate of a $100 million corporation, which is how he described the borough, should be decided by a popularity contest.

Burgess and former mayor Michael Bronko also supported a town manger style of government. He said he has a problem with a mayor coming off the street because the person lacks a historical sense of how the town’s inner workings.

All others who spoke sided with keeping the mayor form of government.

“In this town we do have a business manager, his name is Wayne McAllister,” said Burgess Patrick Scully referring to the borough’s comptroller.

Resident James Kelly felt that a town manager would be too hard to get rid off once the town hires one.

For Matthew Katra, a Board of Finance member, his issue with a town manager was that it would add another employee to the town who would receive retirement benefits. Katra also had the same concern with another proposed change that would make the town clerk and tax positions hired positions rather than elected ones.

Katra was the only one to speak against eliminating the elected town clerk and tax collector.

“I still think you should take the town clerk and tax collector out of politics,” said Burgess Robert Burns.

Those who addressed the commission also split on the issues of an automatic budget referendum and extending the mayor’s term to four years.

Currently, if residents want to force a budget referendum they have to petition to do so. A referendum can be held up to three times, and if the budget fails the town only has to reduce it by $1. Also, a minimum of 15 percent of voters have to cast their ballot for the results of the referendum to count. This year the budget failed at a referendum but the turnout was too low so it passed anyways.

The commission proposed, in its draft report, that budget referendums be automatic. Under the proposal, up to five referendums can be held. After the fifth referendum, if the budget still hasn’t passed, it must be automatically reduced by 2 percent.

Some felt that the public doesn’t analyze the budget details and doesn’t have enough information to vote on the budget.

Bronko said the borough has too large of a population to automatically vote on the budget and contended that there already is a process in place to force a referendum.

Scully suggested that the process be changed so that people have to petition just once to force one or more referendums. He also wanted to see the minimum turnout requirement eliminated.

If the town manager proposal falls through, the commission has also proposed extending the mayor’s term to four years to offer more stability to borough government. There was no consensus among the public on this topic.

“Four years I think gives someone the opportunity to do a better job,” Bronko said.

Scully felt the two-year term is fine. “If someone’s no good you get rid of him. If somebody’s good you keep him,” he said.

The remaining proposed changes-changing the date of the municipal election from May to November, eliminating unnecessary and outdated language throughout the Charter, and eliminating the bidding process from the Charter so that it can be rewritten as an ordinance-were received favorably.

The commission is scheduled to hold a workshop meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Town Hall to iron out its final report, which is expected to be submitted to the Board of Mayor and Burgesses by its Oct. 4 meeting.