Town of Stonington, borough advance charter revision efforts

Stonington — Both the town and the borough are moving forward with charter revision efforts that dramatically could alter their forms of government.

First Selectman Rob Simmons said this week that the Board of Selectmen will begin interviewing candidates for the Charter Revision Commission in January, while in the borough, 11 residents — nine regular members and two alternates — have been sworn in as members of the Charter Revision Commission there.

During his recent re-election campaign, Simmons said that he would form a charter commission to consider recommending the implementation of a town manager form of government, in which the town would hire a professional administrator instead of electing a first selectman every two years.

“Stonington is not a typical semi-rural Connecticut town that is simple to run," Simmons said. "We have three villages. We’re the only town in the state with three sewer treatment plants. We have six fire departments, four zip codes, two rivers, a shoreline, a fishing fleet, high-speed rail, the two biggest tourist attractions in the state other than the casinos and 150 food establishments. This is a complicated town.”

In addition, Simmons has said he would like the town to consider expanding the size of the Board of Selectmen from three to five members. Currently, if two members discuss town business outside of an official meeting, or try to caucus, they are technically in violation of the state Freedom of Information law because they constitute a quorum.

Simmons also would like to make the town clerk and tax collector positions, which are elected now, appointed positions because of the education and training they require. Currently, someone could be elected to the positions and not have the required training or certifications.

When the town last undertook a charter review three years ago to ensure that Board of Finance elections are contested, Simmons had urged the charter commission to also consider the three issues but it declined. Simmons said that he would like to appoint residents to the commission that are open to at least considering the ideas. The commission could either recommend or reject the ideas and could recommend other changes to the charter.

Residents, though, would have to vote to adopt any changes suggested by the commission. Simmons said each item could be voted on individually instead of a package. Voting on all the items at once could put some of the more noncontroversial ones, such as an appointed tax collector or town clerk, in jeopardy of not being approved.

Simmons said he did not undertake charter revision when he was first elected two years ago because there were other issues he had to deal with. Asked if he would like to see a vote on the charter changes at next November’s election for state and federal offices, Simmons said he would like to complete the effort “in a time frame that is carefully managed.”

If a town manager form of government were approved next November, it is conceivable that there would then be no vote for first selectman in the 2019 municipal elections, when Simmons would be up for re-election.

Simmons said he is now collecting the names of people who have contacted the town about serving on the charter commission and will continue doing so until January. At that point, he said the selectmen will interview the candidates for the five to seven positions envisioned on the commission.

In the borough, the nine regular members appointed to its charter commission are Burgess Shaun Mastroianni, former First Selectman Don Maranell, Jesse Diggs, Carol Martin, Jennifer O’Brien, Beth Leamon, former Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Christopher Errichetti, Richard Hanratty and Tim Metzger. The alternates are Betty Richards and John Spencer.

The group will hold an organizational meeting at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 16 in Borough Hall.

The charter commission was formed after Warden Jeff Callahan brought up the issue of the increasing difficulty in getting people to serve on borough boards and commissions.

He said the borough’s declining and aging population, combined with the increasing number of state and federal requirements, has made it difficult to find the 30 people needed to staff boards and commissions and run for elected positions.

This resulted in the borough hiring a consultant to look for ways to make its government more efficient and sustainable. The nine options unveiled in August range from disbanding the borough and merging with the town, to hiring a town manager or letting nonresidents who own property here to serve on boards and commissions and conducting meetings remotely.

The charter commission will consider those and other ideas to address the problems.

 j.wojtas@theday.com

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