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Groton charter proposal petition has more than 800 signatures

Groton — A group of residents seeking to petition the Charter Revision Commission report to referendum has collected more than 800 signatures, nearly half the number needed to place the question on the ballot.

The Charter Revision Commission report proposed several changes to Groton's government, including eliminating the Representative Town Meeting, creating a board of finance and holding an annual budget referendum. The former Town Council rejected the commission report in a 5-4 vote last month, so it will not go on the ballot unless it is petitioned to referendum.

The petitioning group, called Groton’s Right to Vote, must collect signatures from 10 percent of the town’s roughly 19,000 registered voters to place the report on the ballot in November 2018. The group plans to collect 2,000 signatures before the Jan. 12 filing deadline.

"It's going to be close," Bob Frink, a group leader, said Thursday. "The weather is definitely against us, and the number of hours of daylight."

At least 12 people are circulating the petition, with some sharing it with other potential circulators, making it hard to estimate the total signatures collected, Frink said. Circulators will start filing their signature sheets with the town clerk in the next few days, he said.

About 70 percent of Groton residents Frink has approached sign the petition, he said. But for every person he finds from Groton, he finds another visiting the town but not from the town.

Resident Bill Biden signed the petition on Tuesday outside Groton Public Library. At first he wasn't going to sign, but he wants voters to have more say in decisions, he said. "They're the ones paying the taxes," he said.

"It all costs money," he said. "Maybe you don't want to spend money, or maybe it's something that you don't have to do."

Biden doesn't fully understand how Groton's government works, he said.  He's seen the RTM debate on television, but he doesn't know a lot about it. He has nothing against those who serve; he just wants a direct say himself on major decisions, he said.

Former City Councilor Jay Dempsey, who also is collecting signatures, said most residents he's spoken to don't know much about Groton's government. City residents don’t realize Groton City is part of Groton Town, for example.

“I’ve even had people say, ‘I live in Mystic. I’m not part of the town,’” Dempsey said. Mystic residents live in Groton or Stonington, depending on which side of the Mystic River they're on.

Last week, a group calling itself Neighbors Representing Groton started a Facebook page to oppose the petition effort. Mayor Patrice Granatosky, who served on the Charter Revision Commission, described the petition drive as a small group of Groton residents “trying to turn back the clock on good government.” She cautioned voters to think carefully and know what they're signing.

Former town Mayor Bruce Flax said he voted against the proposed charter revision changes because there were too many outstanding issues. There was no minimum voter turnout for a budget referendum, for instance, he said.

But Flax said voters do want the charter reviewed.

“I would encourage the new council to establish another charter revision commission and try to get it right,” Flax said. "I think the taxpayers want that.”


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