Charting new course

Congratulations to the group Change the Charter in Stonington for collecting the signatures necessary to force the formation of the Charter Revision Commission, a step elected officials appeared to have no interest in undertaking.

It was a challenging task. Supporters of the charter change effort had to collect the signatures of one of every 10 registered voters in the town. That meant 1,248 valid signatures. To be sure that it met the threshold, even with some names invalidated, the petitioners collected more than 1,500 signatures.

On Wednesday Town Clerk Cynthia Ladwig certified the necessary signatures had been obtained. In her nearly four decades working in Town Hall, Ms. Ladwig recalled no prior certification process so large.

It is one thing to become worked up, another thing to act.

Many residents were certainly worked up last spring when several hundred people showed up for a budget hearing, most of them there to protest deep cuts in the Board of Education's budget proposal. Despite the demands of those at the hearing to return the funding, the Board of Finance restored only a portion.

Critics said the finance board needed to be more accountable, and they acted, seeking to achieve accountability through a charter revision.

Under the existing charter language, finance board races are typically uncontested. Democrats and Republicans nominate just enough candidates for the seats up for election, meaning everyone is elected unless an independent or third-party candidate enters the race. Once elected, members serve six-year terms. The terms are staggered.

Supporters of the charter-change movement want competitive elections for finance board.

Once appointed, however, a Charter Revision Commission is free to consider other changes. That should be the case in Stonington. This process provides a chance to hear from the public and review the charter to consider what other adjustments may benefit the town.

In making appointments, the political town committees and Board of Selectmen should strive to include representatives of the group that is making the charter review possible, but there should be no attempt to stack the commission for or against any one issue.

Proposed charter changes that make it through the process will ultimately have to be approved by voters to go into effect, a fitting ending for this exercise in local politics.

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