2012 Charter Change Recommendations
Described below are the Republican recommendations for charter change. Our goal is to keep decision making as close to the voters as possible. Efforts by government leaders and their supporters to consolidate power and remove the public from decision making must be strenuously resisted. We believe these recommendations have significant support within the community and with your help, will be implemented.
Nothing is more important at the local level than our town charter. Any changes deserve careful and thoughtful consideration; therefore we would be remiss if we did not ask why the rush? What is so broken that charter revision has to be ready for this November’s ballot? It seems odd that the urgent need for revision was not raised by our First Selectman until after the election. Some have suggested that the main goal is to secure a four year term for the First Selectman and reduce public control of spending. In spite of this potential motivation, charter revision does present an opportunity to make other beneficial changes to the charter. So it is in this spirit that we present the following recommendations; which if worthy, will pass at times other than a November election.
The First Selectman Four Year Term
We recommend against the four year term and support the current system. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. The burden of proof should be on those proposing the change but I haven’t heard any. We agree that it’s inconvenient to run every two years and report to the public, but hardly a reason to change. Two arguments for a four year term are increased continuity and the long learning curve involved, none of which apply to the incumbent. In fact many BOS members and the first selectman have served multiple terms which provides continuity. We would only support a four year term if Clinton moved to a town manager form of government, providing continuity and professional management in one change. And finally Mr. Fritz’s own words for the support of a two year term at the October CTA debate. When asked his opinion on the town manager proposal, his response which I am paraphrasing is this: I am opposed to the town manager. It is not necessary when the voters can remove or approve their first selectman every two years.
Losing First Selectman Rule
This is codified in state statute Title 9, Chapter 146, section 9-188. It allows the losing first selectman candidate to be seated on the BOS if they have a sufficient number of votes. This can be overruled by charter as some are attempting to do. But again the question has to be asked, what is so broken that this decades long procedure has to be changed? If the only reason is that it is inconvenient and awkward for the winner, to have the loser on the BOS, I say that is no reason at all. We believe it is to the public’s advantage to have the strongest and most knowledgeable person present on the BOS to challenge the majority. It’s the British concept of the “loyal opposition” and it works. These first two proposals concentrates too much power in the first selectman’s office by removing inconvenience and a former opponent. Proposing alternative ideas on the BOS is exactly what we should want.
Chapter V – Board of Selectman
Section 5-2.D. “All actions of the Board shall require three (3) affirmative votes”. Leave as is. There is no reason to reduce this to majority of those present other than for convenience. It would also promote concentration of power. Beyond that who wants something to pass that can’t muster three votes. If it can’t get three votes, it is probably a bad idea.
Strengthen Ethics Provisions
Chapter IX, Section 9-2, Code of Ethics. The town has three supervisory boards and commissions. They are the Board of Selectman, the Board of Education and the Police Commission. (I would include the Board of Finance with their control over budgets.) These bodies hire and fire employees; create, recommend or approve budgets. They pass on raises and labor contracts including benefits. This authority and responsibility makes for an increased chance of and temptation to act on conflicts of interest. We recommend that no one be allowed to serve on these bodies who has a relative employed by the town or board of education for the obvious reason. The definition of relatives should include spouse, parents, children, in-laws of all types, nieces and nephews, and first cousins. This situation exists today and should be eliminated. Now that we have a strong Ethics Commission, this could be an area for them to examine if not addressed in the charter. Let’s avoid that prospect.
Term Limits & Attendance
It is believed that it is a benefit to the town to induce turnover on Boards and Commissions. This breaks up concentrations of authority and alliances and brings in new ideas. Therefore we recommend that no person shall be allowed to sit on any elected or appointed board, commission or committee for more than eight consecutive years, counting only full terms and not counting the term they are in at the time Charter Revision is passed. Also attendance (not to mention preparation) is poor for many appointees. Set up a procedure for removal of people if they miss more that 30% of meetings in a calendar year.
Chapter IX, Section 9-3, Merit System. The charter should be amended to require the First Selectman to institute a merit system that includes an annual job performance evaluation. This should not be optional as is the case today. How can raises be allocated without determining someone’s performance against their peers? How can someone be terminated or promoted without supporting documentation? The current lack of a system is a liability to the town. This is something a professional town manager would be in a better position to implement. Again it would be pure coincidence if the First Selectman had Human Resources (HR) background. Also require a background check on all hiring in the charter. Not only smart but a liability issue if not done.
Currently town labor contracts are negotiated by the First Selectman and employee costs are by far the largest part of our budget. This is a problem for two reasons; 1. The First Selectman is not a professional labor negotiator (it would be pure coincidence if he/she were) and 2. Since many of those who work under these contracts are Clinton Voters, it is a conflict of interest. In fact it is troubling that there are no qualifications whatever to be First Selectman (other than resident elector). Why would we want to put our First Selectman in this position? And without professional skills and experience, how can we sure the town negotiated the best contract? Therefore we recommend that the charter require that all contracts be negotiated by a professional labor negotiator who is very experienced in representing town governments. Also you might require that contracts that are retroactive more than six months or give increases above the CPI, must go to referendum after approval by BOF.
In Chapter VI, Section 6-2, D. “The first Selectman shall contract for all services and the purchases of supplies, equipment and other commodities” ------------ “under the competitive bidding provisions of this Charter”. These provisions are found in Chapter X, Section 10-6, B. In part it says, “Said regulations (bidding rules) may exclude professional, engineering and technical services”. This is a loop hole which allows the First Selectman to choose vendors without bidding. We recommend closing this loop hole.
Private Organizations Funded by Taxpayer
Institutions that receive substantial taxpayer funds should be subject to some oversight by the town. Financial reports should be required on a regular basis to be provided to the town on a par with other town agencies. Further, the BOS should have the authority to appoint an appropriate number of town representatives to sit on boards of trustees or boards of directors of such outside organizations. These requirements must be a prerequisite for continued funding.
Town Meeting and Referenda, Quorums & Authority
With the often poor attendance at town meetings we are making the following recommendations: Currently the Town Meeting can approve to be spent up to 5% of the current tax levy (Chapter IV, Section A.A, sub-section 1 and 2.) before requiring a referendum. This authority is currently approaching $2,500,000. We recommend this be reduced to 2.5% and that no single item exceeding $1,000,000 shall be approved by town meeting.
Also establishing quorums may be a requirement whose time has come. For the town meeting, would it be too much to ask for 25 voters to participate. For passage of referendums, a 15% turnout should be required. This would make it more democratic and make it harder for special interests to pass bond issues under the radar.
Board of Finance & Alternates
Strengthen Board of Finance’s role, do not weaken it. Also increase membership to seven. Do not reduce to five. This would concentrate too much power in too few and the BOF could be more easily controlled by a faction. Reducing would also increase the attendance problem. Also reduce terms to four years. Alternates – they are needed on Boards & Commissions with deadlines. Consider this – if a full seat goes vacant, require the BOS to back fill the seat from the Alternates on that body consistent with minority party representation rules, then backfill the Alternate position.
Separate Questions on Ballot
Any proposed change that resembles a controversial issue should be a separate question on ballot. Also all bond issues for multiple projects should be broken up into individual questions. And transfer of funds between projects should be prohibited. Allowing transfer creates a “slush” fund and that is not a complimentary term. Firm maximums for each project should also be established.
Town Manager form of Government
Although a professional Town Manager form of government will not be considered this time around, we are encouraged that so many other people are suggesting its time has come. Many minds and perspectives (and public participation) will make for a better Charter.
Phil Sengle, RTC Chair