The every-four-years Town Charter revision process begins anew this month. This process offers town residents the opportunity to provide their ideas for and input on refinements in the foundational structures and processes of Ridgefield town government.
This year’s public participation in the process starts with public hearings scheduled for Saturday, February 11 at 9:30 am and for Monday, February 13, at 7 pm, both at Town Hall. At these hearings, members of the public can provide their thoughts on the Commission’s planned work, including suggestions for Charter amendments to consider.
From a legal perspective, the Town Charter is functionally comparable to the constitution of the state or the by-laws of an organization, in defining the basic authorities and operating rules of the town.
Town ordinances can be modified at any time by vote of the Board of Selectmen and a Town Meeting. In contrast, the wording of the Charter can only be changed by a very specific process and timeline defined by state law. 2023 is the year when the next round of this review opportunity will occur.
The Charter change process operates through a Charter Revision Commission, which was recently appointed by the Board of Selectmen. (The names of this year’s CRC can be viewed with this link to the town website: https://www.ridgefieldct.org/charter-revision-commission.) The role of the Commission is to solicit proposals for changes to the Charter from town residents and from town boards, commissions, and governmental units, to consider and evaluate these proposals, and to recommend a final set of changes to the Board of Selectmen. Following BOS approval, the proposals are then presented to the voters of the town in a regular, or in some cases special, election.
In the last Charter revision cycle, there were nine ballot propositions. Several of these proposed significant changes to the structure of town government, including the separation of the Inland Wetlands Board from the Planning and Zoning Commission (which was approved) and changing the Town Treasurer and Town Tax Collector from elected to appointed positions (both of which were rejected by the voters). Each cycle, there have usually been one or more proposals relating to the town budget process, as well as proposals regarding town boards and committees. Typically, there is often a “technical amendments” question making small but important changes to improve clarity in the wording of the Charter.
The Commission will be meeting weekly every Thursday through June in the Town Hall Annex, beginning at 6:30 pm. These meetings are open to the public, with a specific agenda published in advance, so someone can know what topics are planned for discussion. While some of the meetings will be primarily working sessions, there will also be frequent opportunities for additional public comment throughout this time.
The Commission hopes to complete its draft report of change recommendations in late April. Following its publication, there will be a second round of public hearings to receive public comments specifically on the draft. These are currently scheduled for May 11 and May 13, with meeting details to be published later.The Charter Revision process is another example where our form of town government offers residents the chance to engage in participatory Democracy. You are encouraged to attend the hearings and scheduled meetings to contribute to and monitor the Commission’s work toward a set of final proposals for voters’ consideration this fall.