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Changes proposed to Ledyard's charter

Ledyard — The Charter Revision Commission has proposed changes, large and small, to the town's charter which residents will vote to approve at the Nov. 6 election.

Comprised of seven members, the commission was assigned by the Town Council after an application process.

"In this case, many of the members have previously served on prior Town Councils, the Board of Ed and citizens at large," Town Councilor Kevin Dombrowski, the commission liaison, wrote in an email.

He said the biggest changes regard the budget process and what steps need to happen if the state reduces its budget after the town budget has been approved.

State statute adjustments

Many, if not most, of the commission's suggestions were meant to update Ledyard's charter to reflect modified state statutes. For example, "Registrars of Voters shall serve for a term of four years" replaces what used to be two-year terms. The previous charter did not stipulate that the Board of Education have an organizational meeting; the proposed new one does.

Paragraphs denoting the roles of the assessor and tax collector take the place of one sentence: "The Tax Collector and Assessor shall have the powers and duties imposed by law on such offices." Dombrowski explained this was meant to match state statutes.

A common specification the commission added is having bodies like the Board of Assessment Appeals and the Building Code of Appeals select a chairman and vice chairman. Dombrowski said this is because, even though these types of boards rarely meet, they'll now at least do so annually.

Language changes

The proposed new charter mandates that the town has a minimum of two districts. The tweaked language provides for "at least two Voting Districts" rather than the most recent "There shall be two Voting Districts."

In the proposed charter, "the Town Council may authorize the mayor to contract for services" supplants "The Town Council may, upon recommendation of the Mayor, contract for services ..." While this looks to be a fundamental shift in the powers of the Town Council and mayor, Dombrowski noted that the amended wording merely "clarified how the town has been operating."

In the current charter, the mayor had vague authority to "disapprove or reduce any item or items in any appropriation, whereupon the approved appropriation shall become effective unless the disapproved or reduced portion thereof is passed by the Town Council over the Mayor's veto..." The Charter Revision Commission deleted this section.

The commission also sought to simplify how the town appoints a police chief. Originally, "The Mayor shall be the Chief of Police until ... the Town Council shall direct otherwise by ordinance." The proposed new charter states that, if the job is vacant, "the Mayor shall act as the Chief of Police until a replacement is appointed. Subject to approval by the Town Council, the Mayor may appoint an acting Chief of police until a permanent Chief of Police is duly appointed."

Instead of a singular town attorney referred to in the current charter, the proposed new one states "the mayor shall, with the approval of the town council, appoint Attorneys for the town."

For public hearings, the commission recommended changing the wording in the charter from requiring notice five days in advance via publication "in a newspaper having circulation in said town" to publication "on the Town website."

Added/deleted sections

A recommendation from the commission brought "Planning" and "Zoning" together in the charter, rather than having them be two different departments.

"Planning and Zoning had been combined several years ago, we only updated the language to match how the town is currently operating," Dombrowski wrote.

A major proposed amendment includes a description of the functions of the Permanent Municipal Building Committee, which was established in the past in order to manage large construction projects for the town. Its appearance in the charter "now makes this commission a requirement to maintain," Dombrowski wrote.

The commission proposed removing the economic development coordinator and Economic Development Commission from the charter to, as Dombrowski wrote, "provide flexibility to the Mayor and the Town Council." Both this position and commission remain viable in the town.

This means that the economic development coordinator also was removed in the charter from the Department of Land Use and Planning. Additionally, several paragraphs relating to the duties of the coordinator and commission were eliminated.

Eminent domain and the political activity of those "employed in the classified civil service" were two concepts robustly addressed by the commission. The proposed new charter drops language about a "simple majority vote at a referendum, in which at least 15% of the registered voters participate" in reference to the "taking of private property by eminent domain by the Town for public use..."

Dombrowski wrote that this was added after the Kelo v. New London case was heard, making the language about a referendum "superfluous" and leaving eminent domain questions up to the Town Council.

Political activity for town employees is allowed privately — they have the right to vote, express opinions on political subjects and "participate in political management and campaigns." Employees can work for political parties and volunteer for candidates but must avoid engaging "in such activity while on duty ... and no such employee shall utilize Town funds ... to secure support or oppose any candidate, party, or issue in a political partisan election."

"This language was added to mirror State statute requirements regarding political activities by Town Employees while they are working," Dombrowski wrote. "This does not limit anyone's individual right to support their political choices, just not while at work, or utilizing Town assets."

Commission themes

"Enforcement" was a primary concern of the commission. For the chief building code official, their job expectations now encompass administering and enforcing the State Building Code, whereas the current charter does not address the enforcement. The zoning official now is named the zoning enforcement official, the only difference in the role now "including enforcement." The same goes for the wetlands enforcement official.

Another focus of the commission was regionalizing. For the Law Enforcement Division, the beginning of the first sentence was changed to read, "Unless otherwise directed by ordinance establishing a Regional Law Enforcement Agency ..." The duties of the Mayor on the budget also were redone to mention "regionalization efforts" when discussing a "budget plan indicating any major changes from the current year in financial policies, regionalization efforts, expenditures, and revenues ..."

The Public Safety Commission part of the proposed new charter now orders that the police chief is a member and not a "Town Resident State Trooper." In the current charter, it was either the chief or a state trooper. Moreover, the proposed charter accounts for the demise of the Ledyard Volunteer Emergency Squad. Since the squad no longer exists, its director can't be a part of the Public Safety Commission. Therefore, the commission attached the phrase, "or the executive office of any other organization licensed or certified to provide emergency ambulance service in Ledyard ..."

Edits on the budget process, whether for the mayor or the Board of Education, appear often in the proposed new charter. The main addendum is having a contingency plan in case of a "reduction in services, use of Town surplus or an increase in tax levy" for the school board. "The budget submission should include plans for dealing with additional reductions in State funding that might occur after the Board of Education budget is prepared that could include reduction in services."

The mayor's contingency plan should have steps in place "for dealing with reductions in State funding that may occur after the budget is adopted at referendum." If the state does not give the town the anticipated grants and payments, "the Town Council may reopen the budget," according to the proposed new charter. Afterward, the council will hold a town meeting with the revised budget before citizens "adjourn to the voting machines."

The version of the charter the commission is adapting was last ratified in 2009. The first iteration of the charter became effective in November 1971. It went through a revision and ratification process in 1973, 1979, 1985, 2002 and 2009.

If ratified, the 2018 charter would become effective Dec. 3, 2018.

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