Stonington residents force creation of charter revision commission

Stonington — Town Clerk Cynthia Ladwig on Wednesday finished certifying the signatures of 1,248 voters who successfully have forced the town to create a charter revision commission to look at changing the way Board of Finance members are elected.

Ladwig sent the certified petitions to the Board of Selectmen Wednesday afternoon. After Town Attorney Thomas Londregan reviews the petition and sets up a state-mandated timeline for the process, the town will seek applicants for the new commission and appoint members.

The town also will determine what issues the commission should investigate. It is expected that the commission will consider issues beyond the Board of Finance election process. Voters eventually would have to approve any recommended changes to the charter.

In her 37 years working in Town Hall, Ladwig said, the town clerk’s office has never had to certify this many signatures to make sure the people live in town and are registered voters.

While just 200 signatures are needed to force a budget referendum vote, 10 percent of the town’s 12,220 registered voters must sign a petition to force the creation of the commission. Ladwig said the town’s registrars of voters assisted her in certifying the signatures after the group Change the Charter handed in petitions on June 26 that contained more than 1,500 signatures. Ladwig stopped the certification effort after the 10 percent requirement was met.

When the town last underwent charter revision in 2004, no petitions were needed because the Board of Selectmen started that process.

Change the Charter wants the commission to examine the nominating process, balloting, terms and party representation of the finance board.

Every two years, two members — each with six-year terms — come up for election. The current procedure calls for the Democratic and Republican town committees to nominate one candidate for each for the two positions. This means that if there is not a third-party, petitioning or independent candidate, the two party-endorsed candidates run unopposed and are elected. Voters are asked to select one of two candidates on their ballots, but both are elected.

While past attempts to change the process have failed, the year’s effort began this spring when some residents became upset after more than 500 people attended a public hearing on the proposed 2014-15 budget, and the finance board refused their request to restore money it had cut from the school budget and let the voters decide.

Change the Charter has called the system “wrong, undemocratic, and outdated.”

j.wojtas@theday.com

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