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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    OPINION: Stonington should step away from cronyism charter reform

    The freshly percolating idea of charter reform in Stonington seems, at the outset, to stem from the very core values of cronyism, appointing your pals to positions of influence.

    The principal reason given for proposals to crack open Stonington’s charter for some specific and perhaps still-unknown changes is that Town Clerk Sally Duplice is retiring in 2026, and she and others apparently have in mind a replacement who doesn’t live in town, and therefore, can’t run for the post.

    So proposed charter reform, which, of course, is uncontrollable and not limited to any topic, once it starts, is meant to begin by making the clerk and tax collector positions elected and not appointed.

    Duplice made an alarmist plea last month to the Board of Selectmen for charter change to create an appointed clerk position instead of an elected one.

    “I can’t think of anyone in the town that can do this job,” she told the board.

    How does she know?

    I understand the job is difficult and requires training and certification. It seems like the current clerk is good at it. I don’t know her, but her office seems to run very well.

    But, let’s be honest, it’s not rocket science.

    The clerk and other charter reform advocates obviously have a specific replacement in mind, someone who needs to be appointed and can’t run for office. Appointing insiders is the textbook definition of cronyism and a really, really bad reason for the town to embark on a momentous opening of the charter to change.

    The vast majority of town clerks in Connecticut are elected and not appointed. All those communities manage to find, among their own ranks, qualified individuals to manage the clerk’s office.

    Why is Stonington any different?

    And, most important, in my mind, they serve specific terms — in Stonington it’s four years — and are not awarded what may turn into lifetime appointments, as cronies.

    As elected officials, they are beholden to voters, which in this age of challenges to democratic norms, is very important.

    There is enough cronyism in all small towns, without further baking it into the charter.

    Proposing changes to the charter to be able to hire some specific individuals in town seems to be at the top of the list of some other bad ideas for reform. Others I’ve heard on the wish list, like making selectperson terms four years instead of two, also seem like un-Democratic nonstarters to me.

    Again, the great majority of selectpersons in Connecticut serve two-year terms. That doesn’t mean they can’t continue in office longer, if voters agree.

    But voters get a say in that. I wouldn’t vote to give up that privilege and I would urge all my neighbors to join me in keeping the great community of Stonington as democratic and responsive to voters as possible.

    There’s also talk of changing the charter so that women can be called selectwomen instead of selectmen.

    C’mon. We don’t need to change the charter just to respect elected selectpersons with a correct and appropriate title they prefer. Just do it. No one is going to complain.

    Just look at New London, where Mayor Michael Passero continues to thumb his nose at an important part of the city’s charter he doesn’t like, requiring department heads to live in the community.

    Hail to Stonington’s “selectwomen” for the rest of their well-earned and deserved two-year terms. May voters consider giving them more.

    There is no need in 2024 to change the charter to respect their service and use the titles they prefer.

    d.collins@theday.com

    This is the opinion of David Collins

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