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Stonington residents want charter changes on November ballot

Stonington — Approximately 30 residents urged the Board of Selectmen Wednesday night to place the recommendations of the Charter Revision Commission on the ballot for the November election.

During the public hearing, they supported a number of recommended changes to the Board of Finance that in part would ensure contested elections.

The selectmen will decide at a later date whether to accept or reject the recommendations and place them on the ballot.

Speakers said that because there are no contested elections and board members are essentially appointed by their respective town committee, voters have no say about the people who make decisions on spending taxpayer money.

“Let us voters decide this issue. Trust us. Trust us, we will do you proud,” said charter commission member Bob Statchen, who also helped lead the effort to get the Charter Revision Commission formed to look at the finance board issue.

He said contested finance board elections would improve the “credibility and legitimacy” of its members. It would also give the town's 6,000 unaffiliated voters a say about who is elected.

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” forced the creation of the commission.

The effort began last spring after some residents felt the finance board had ignored the wishes of more than 500 people who packed a budget public hearing and asked the school budget be sent to voters without cuts. The board refused.

Charter recommendations 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 finance board 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.

j.wojtas@theday.com

Twitter: @joewojtas

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