DTC Endorses Charter Revision Changes – Encourages YES Vote on Ballot Questions

DTC Encourages "YES" Vote on November Ballot Questions

At its October 12 meeting, the DTC voted to endorse the changes to the Town Charter recommended by the 2023 Charter Revision Commission, and to encourage all town residents to vote YES on the Charter questions on this November’s ballot.  Following the meeting, Chairman Arny DiLaura said “These Charter changes are important elements to maintaining an effective Town government.  We encourage everyone to vote in favor of these changes when they vote in November.”

Some Background

As described in a DTC Post last February, every four years a Charter Revision Commission (CRC) is appointed to consider changes to the Town Charter.  The Charter is the governing document that defines the structure and operation of Ridgefield’s town government.  This past August, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) voted to accept all suggested changes to the Charter that were recommended by the CRC following eight months of public outreach, research, and discussion.  With the acceptance by the BOS, the changes will now be presented to the voters on the ballot in the upcoming November election.

The Ballot Questions

The various changes will be presented as nine ballot questions. Some of the questions combine related changes together as a group.   For example, half of the recommendations are procedural or technical in nature, such as clarifications in wording or updated references to State statues.  These are consolidated as a single question (Question 1).  Similarly, one question combines requests from various boards to change their number of members or terms of office (Question 7).  A third question presents several changes related to the budget approval process (Question 8).

Other questions present single-issue proposals.  These stand-alone ballot questions include the following recommendations:

Changing the Positions of Town Treasurer, Town Clerk, and Town Tax Collector from Elected Positions to Positions Hired by the Board of Selectmen (Questions 2, 3 and 4):  These changes, which were proposed by the BOS among others, have several motivations.  These three positions are largely administrative in nature, as opposed to being policy making.  These positions are not elected roles in many towns and cities across Connecticut.  As hired positions, the Board of Selectmen would be able to establish requirements for education, training, and experience, which is not the case with elected roles.  As BOS member Maureen Kozlark noted in the discussion of these proposals “The impetus for changing this in the Charter is not a political issue. It’s a competency, employment, and qualifying issue, and it’s important for our government.”

Updated Role Titles:  One ballot question (Question 5) proposes adopting gender-neutral language for the town’s primary governing roles – specifically, changing the title ‘Board of Selectmen’ to ‘Board of Selectpersons’, the title ‘First Selectman’ to ‘First Selectperson,’ and references to “Selectmen” to “Selectpersons”.   (Note: if adopted, this question is just a change in titles and would not have any effect on our Town Meeting/Board form of government.).

Although this is not a substantive change, the topic did generate lengthy discussions among members of both the CRC and BOS.  Before the BOS vote to accept the recommendation, Selectman Sean Connelly noted, “It’s the right direction.”

Standards of Conduct: Perhaps the most detailed proposed change would be a reworking of the Charter’s existing Standards of Conduct, which defines ethics rules for town officials and employees, to make them stronger and clearer.  Among the changes are new or clarified ethics definitions, more specific language concerning conflicts of interest and employment, and several changes to the operation of the Board of Ethics (Question 9).

In developing this proposed update, the CRC received valuable input from members of the last Charter Revision Commission, the current chair of the Town’s Board of Ethics, and Town counsel. According to CRC member Todd Zagorec, writing rules on ethics is challenging because so much of it comes down to judgment.  The recommended language “should be easier to understand and apply.  We tried to make it more objective,” said Zagorec, adding, “We don’t want to discourage people from volunteering on boards.”

The remaining question (# 6) proposes a technical change to clarify voting eligibility, for non-residents who own property in the town, for Town Meetings and referendums.

By the Way, Don’t Miss the Charter Questions on the Ballot – They’re on Page 3

It is unusual timing to have the Charter questions presented in the same election as our municipal offices, and the result is an unusually long ballot – a full 3 pages!   Please be sure to take the time to fill out the extra page, as that is where the Charter questions will appear.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the other members of the 2023 Charter Revision Commission.

A copy of the August 12, 2023 Charter Revision Commission Final Report is posted on the CRC page of the Town’s website.  This page includes redline mark-up versions of the present Charter with the proposed changes, as well links to meeting minutes, recordings of meetings, other details of the CRC’s work. Printed copies of the final report materials are available at Town Hall and the Library.

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