Groton Town Council rejects charter change recommendations

Groton — The Groton Town Council voted 5-4 Tuesday night to reject the final report of the Charter Revision Commission, which recommended eliminating the Representative Town Meeting and holding an annual budget referendum.

The vote means the report will not go to voters at referendum unless there is a petition signed by at least 10 percent of registered voters within 45 days to put the charter revisions on the ballot, according to an opinion by town attorneys Eileen Duggan and Michael Carey.

“They just said they respect the amount of time we put into this? They don’t,” said Kathy Chase, a member of the Charter Revision Commission. Commission members worked more than 15 months on the report.

Mayor Bruce Flax and Councilors Deborah Peruzzotti, Harry Watson, Dean Antipas and Rich Moravsik voted to reject the report. Councilors Bonnie Nault, Karen Morton, Diane Barber and Greg Grim voted to approve it and send it to voters.

Moravsik said at the start of the meeting he supported sending the report to voters, but he changed his vote after learning that the incoming council would be unable to change that decision.

Democrats swept the Groton Town Council on Nov. 7, winning all nine seats and ousting seven incumbents, and Tuesday was the last meeting of the old council before the new one takes office. Moravsik is the only current councilor who will remain in office for the next term.

The report contained so many changes, it created a bit of chaos, Flax said. “We all know that people don’t like change. So if we’re trying to change the town, doing so by changing a lot of the charter isn’t going to get that accomplished in my opinion,” he said.

While the current system “is far from perfect, so is this,” Antipas said of the report.

The Commission’s final report, received by councilors last week, recommended that Groton dissolve the RTM, install a 7-member Board of Finance with members elected by voting district, and hold an annual budget referendum, with town and education budgets voted on separately.

Barber said the proposed changes were “dissected and scrutinized,” which only gave them more merit.

Morton said she would have liked some changes to the final report, like adding a minimum voter turnout for a budget referendum. But she added, “I also feel that, having served four years on the RTM, that system is broken,” she said. “I don’t feel that it truly represents everyone in the town.”

Commission member Rosanne Kotowski said it was too early to say whether commissioners or others would attempt to petition the report to referendum.

“I’m very disappointed,” Commission member Robert Frink said. “I mean, it should have gone to the voters. What we had here was five people (who) decided for the whole town. They took it upon themselves to decide for the whole town to not let this move forward. And I think the townspeople are going to have a reaction to it.”

d.straszheim@theday.com

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