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Proposed charter changes to get hearing Thursday in Stonington

Stonington - The Charter Revision Commission will hold a public hearing on its proposed changes on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the police station community room.

The majority of the commission's recommendations involve changing how the Board of Finance is elected to ensure there are contested elections as well as instituting term limits for members and reducing their terms from six to four years.

The committee did not make recommendations on issues such as expending the Board of Selectmen from three to five members, holding separate votes on the town and school budgets, hiring a town manager, requiring public comments on meetings of the boards of finance, selectmen and education, and formally establishing a standing Ethics Commission.

The commission's reluctance to make recommendations on these more controversial issues led to the resignation of three of its 11 members over the past month. Commission members felt that recommending the charter be altered to accommodate these changes could jeopardize its recommendations concerning the Board of Finance, and also result in a delay that could prevent the recommendations from getting on the ballot for the November election.

In his letter to the Board of Selectmen, commission Chairman Matthew Berger pointed out that it was a petition signed by more than 1,500 residents who wanted the commission to "review the nomination, balloting, term, and party representation requirements for the Board of Finance" that forced the creation of the commission and selectmen reiterated that language in its appointment of the commission.

"Therefore the bulk of this CRC's work focused on these issues," he said.

He added that the commission did consider other issues brought up by public but they were "primarily viewed in the context of whether they first, were appropriate for the Town and second, would not jeopardize the changes being recommended to the Board of Finance."

"In its deliberations, the CRC was cognizant of the fact that historically CRCs in Stonington that have recommended too many changes from one commission risk not having any changes implemented. All members of the commission agree that the issues not recommended for amendment at this time would certainly be appropriate for future commissions to consider," he wrote.

Changes being recommended include expanding the size of the finance board from six to seven members, allowing each political party to nominate as many candidates as open seats, making the board subject to minority representation rules, reducing the term of members from six to four years and limiting school board and finance board members to serving three successive terms, after which they would be eligible to serve again after a four-year break.

Currently, 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 of the two positions. This means that if there is no 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.

Another recommendation being made states that the town clerk could not cast tie breaking votes for the finance board which would have to adopt internal procedures for breaking a tie. There are also recommendations concerning the filling of vacancies and how to transition the finance board to seven members.

The commission is also recommending the terms of Town Clerk and Tax Collector be increased from two to four years, a Department of Assessment be established separate from the Department of Finance, the Board of Selectman's authority for the sale or disposition of any town owned real property be increased from $5,000 to $10,000 and gender neutral terms be incorporated in the charter.



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