By Rob Glidden
The Charter Revision Commission has dismissed a handful of ideas from a previous public hearing, including longer terms for certain municipal boards and changing the requirements for a referendum on town expenditures.
The referendum issue was discussed by several residents at the public hearing, many of whom claimed that the costs of major projects that didn’t go to referendum (such as the turf field) were close to the $1 million threshold that triggers a vote but still just under it. A lower threshold was suggested, but several commissioners noted that this scenario was possible regardless of what amount of money triggered a referendum.
Commissioner William Della Vecchia said the threshold had risen over the years because of inflation, particularly the rising costs of construction. He and other commissioners felt it would make it more difficult to address the town’s needs if the amount were lowered.
“You’ll be having referendums on many more items because the costs keep rising,” Della Vecchia said.
Commissioner Dennis Conroy echoed the statements of some residents when he proposed to alter the charter in a way that would keep the “lease-buyback” scenario that created the new municipal center from happening again.
“The North Center project was over a million and it didn’t go to referendum,” he said. “There’s something wrong with that. If something is a legitimate need, it’s our responsibility as elected officials to persuade the people of that need.”
Town Attorney Mark Sciota explained how difficult it would be to accomplish such a goal without severely limiting the council’s budget process, since the annual lease payments on the new building are included in the budget each year. The commission was swayed by this discussion and opted not to pursue the matter.
At the commission’s previous meeting, Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski and Board of Finance member Sandra Feld had both expressed support for four-year terms rather than two-year terms for their boards, citing the difficult learning curve for new members.
The commission was wary of the idea of reversing a change to the charter that is only a few years old and that was approved overwhelmingly by voters when originally proposed.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Commissioner Bruce “Zeke” Zalaski, a former state representative who said this debate often came up at the state level. “The people should be able to speak every two years.”
During the meeting, the commission also made some progress on its primary objective – evaluating the oversight of the Police and Fire Commissions. Currently, these commissions do not answer to the Town Manager but this charter revision process will likely end with a proposal to change this. To give some perspective from an area where this is already the norm, Meriden City Manager Lawrence Kendzior was invited to speak at length about the issue.
“It’s a very cooperative arrangement,” he said of his authority over Meriden’s public safety boards. “I think it gives me a certain degree of responsiveness from them. If I’m reflecting the will of the council and council is reflecting the will of the people, then I think the system is working well.”
Cheshire Town Manager Michael Milone is expected to speak at the next meeting of the commission.