The Board of Selectmen held a special meeting on this date at 7:00 p.m. at the Stonington High School Cafeteria. Present were First Selectman William S. Brown, Selectman Stephen E. Bessette, and Selectman Peter L. Balestracci. Also present were members of the Charter Revision Commission, town staff, the public and the press.
(1) Call to Order
Mr. Brown called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m. and the Pledge of Allegiance was recited.
(2) Public Hearing on the Charter Revision Commission’s Draft Report
Mr. Brown read the Public Hearing Notice into the record as follows: “Pursuant to CGS Section 7-191, the Board of Selectmen will hold a Public Hearing on the Charter Revision Commission’s Draft Report dated April 7, 2005. Said Public Hearing will be held on Wednesday, May 11, 2005 at 7:00 p.m. at the Stonington High School Cafeteria, 176 South Broad St., Pawcatuck, CT. At this hearing, interested persons may appear and be heard and written communications will be received. If unable to attend, please forward written communications to the Board of Selectmen, P. O. Box 352, 152 Elm Street, Stonington, CT 06378, by May 11, 2005. Copies of the draft report are available at the Town Clerk’s Office and also on the Town’s web site (www.stonington-ct.gov.).” Mr. Brown then opened the floor for comments.
William Cutler, Mystic, submitted a statement regarding the need for reports and a greater flow of information.
Michael Blair, 18 Cutler Street, Stonington, commented that he supports the Charter Revision Commission’s recommendation to change to a Town Manager form of government and an expanded five-member Board of Selectmen. He commented that the Board of Education has a qualified, appointed, professional superintendent to help them run the school system. We should operate in the same manner on the government side, with a qualified, appointed professional to help a five-member Board of Selectmen run the government. A five-member Board of Selectmen would maximize the collaborative process.
Vincent Faulise, Pawcatuck, commented he is opposed to a Town Manager form of government, but in favor of expanding the Board of Selectmen to five members. He feels the Town is too small for a Town Manager.
Mark Mercier, Pawcatuck, supports an expanded five-member Board of Selectmen, but feels that the First Selectman form of government runs quite well. He inquired if the public would be able to vote on both questions, to which Mr. Brown responded that the Board of Selectmen will be reviewing all comments and then will send its recommendation to the Charter Revision Commission.
Dora Hill, Pawcatuck, commented she would like the Board of Selectmen to return the report to the Charter Revision Commission, recommending they eliminate the Town Manager but keep the expanded Board of Selectmen. She commented that our First Selectman is our Town Manager.
Gail Shea, Pawcatuck, commented she is in favor of an expanded five-member Board of Selectmen and feels that would be beneficial for the Town. She is not in favor of changing to a Town Manager form of government. She commented on the excellent job George Sylvestre does as the Town’s Director of Administrative Services, and stated that we shouldn’t forget we have that position.
Tom Haggerty, River Road, Pawcatuck, commented that the Selectman form of government we have now is the best form of government. He supports the idea of a five-member Board of Selectmen, but does not support changing to a Town Manager form of government.
William Cutler commented that the information provided regarding a Town Manager form of government has shown no solid evidence of any benefit to the Town.
John Nazzaro, Pawcatuck, advocated preserving our existing form of government. He commented that nothing in the Charter Revision Commission’s report responds to the issue of getting rid of the Chief Executive Officer. He is not in favor of changing to a Town Manager form of government and is not in favor of expanding the Board of Selectmen to five members. Five members would be just be “more government.” He questioned the need for more points of view, stating that it hasn’t been shown that our three-member Board of Selectmen is ineffective. He also questioned the financial impact of having a Town Manager. He questioned, in the event the Board was expanded to five members, would they be elected at large?
Lynn Young, Stonington, commented that electing five members at large would be dangerous, because they might all be from one section of Town and not have the entire Town’s best interests in mind when making decisions.
Michael Blair, Stonington, requested that the Board not cut the recommendation for Town Manager out of the Report. Also, he stated that his family lives in Town of Stonington, as would any person elected to the Board of Selectmen, and he and his family would not care what section of Town the elected members were from. He also spoke about professionalism in areas like auto mechanics and doctors, and the need for professionalism in running our government, instead of just a “nice person” to run government. He requested that the Board of Selectmen give the voters an opportunity to vote on the report as it stands.
Paul Sartor, Mystic, stated that a democratic form of government is a good idea, and he hopes that the Board of Selectmen will respect what the Commission has worked so hard to produce and will allow the voters to decide what they want. He is in favor of having a professional Town Manager, and has wanted to get this question out to the voters for many years. The Commission was created by Mr. Brown as an opportunity to look into this and this is now a great opportunity to see if the majority of voters agree, even though Mr. Brown no longer believes there is a need for a Town Manager. He reminded everyone that a Town Manager would serve at the pleasure of the Board of Selectmen.
Gail Shea, Pawcatuck, commented that with three Selectmen, the pattern has been that the minority Selectman doesn’t contribute much. It is understandable that the minority Selectman would have a “what’s the point?” attitude. If the Board was expanded to five members, the members with different opinions would be more willing to speak. Regarding the election of five members at large, it would not necessarily be any worse than electing three members at large, the way it is now. She applauded the Commission’s intent to “gender neutralize” the Charter. Regarding elimination of a stipend for an expanded Board of Selectmen, she would be opposed to that idea. She commented that in our society, money is a symbol of value, and to take
away the stipend would be to devalue the important job done by the members of the Board of Selectmen.
Jeff Callahan, Stonington Borough, stated he has not yet made up his mind whether he supports a change to a Town Manager form of government. He does support the idea of changing to a five member Board of Selectmen, and he recommends sending both questions to the voters.
Ed Hart, Taugwonk Road, Stonington, commented that nothing in the Report shows the financial impact of changing to a Town Manager form of government. He feels that the Commission should do some financial research, hiring a consultant if necessary.
Mark Mercier, Pawcatuck, commented he doesn’t care about district representation in the election of the members of the Board of Selectmen; electing them at large is fine. However, he does think the First Selectman position should stand alone, by itself. He also would like to see the Board of Finance expanded to seven members, elected by the people.
Gail MacDonald, Pawcatuck, thanked the Charter Revision Commission for their efforts and their recommendations. She is in favor of the proposal to change to a Town Manager form of government with an expanded, five-member Board of Selectmen. Due to the complexity of town government, it’s time for professional management. Former First Selectman Jim Spellman talked about this 25 years ago. She requested that the Board of Selectmen please bring the question to the voters, stating that if it does not go to the voters, she feels that would be a real insult to the people on the Commission.
Paul Sartor commented on the Board of Finance issue, asking if the Board of Selectmen could recommend that the Commission include that issue in its final report, and if so, he would encourage them to do so. He would like to see the Board of Finance selection changed to the way the Board of Education is chosen.
Vincent Faulise commented he is also in favor of changing the way the Board of Finance is chosen and they should be elected rather than appointed by the political parties. He also commented that with five Board of Selectmen members, there would be more participation.
Michael Blair spoke in support of competitive election for the Board of Finance. He also spoke in support of keeping the stipend for the members of the Board of Selectmen. He commented that, in the Borough, each of the Burgesses has something they’re responsible for, and it could be the same for the Board of Selectmen if there were five of them.
Dora Hill commended Mr. Brown on being willing to admit he changed his mind about the need for a Town Manager. She stated she is confused about the process to be followed now. Brief discussion was held regarding the process.
Gail Shea stated she would support a change to elect the Board of Finance in the same way as the Board of Education is elected. She mentioned that during the last Charter Revision process, which was when the Board of Education election process was changed, the Commission also recommended changing the Board of Finance selection process. That recommendation was not followed up on. She encouraged the Board of Selectmen to recommend that the Charter Revision Commission change the way the Board of Finance is selected.
William Cutler commented that two-year terms provide the Town with the opportunity to remove the Chief Elected Official.
Gisela Harma, resident of Pawcatuck and Tax Collector for the Town of Stonington, commented that we now live in a different, more complex society than we did when our form of government was first chosen. We need a professional and she feels it is very important to change to a Town Manager form of government. She also supports a change to an expanded five-member Board of Selectmen. She stated that the Town’s general government should operate in a similar manner to that of the Board of Education: the Board of Education sets policy and has a professional, the Superintendent, to administer that policy. She also mentioned that the Board of Finance has a professional Finance Director. She stated that she and the Town Clerk attended the first public hearing and asked
that the Charter Revision Commission consider changing the Tax Collector and Town Clerk to appointed positions instead of elected, due to the complexity of those jobs. She supports the changes proposed by the Charter Revision Commission and feels that the Commission did a good job.
June Valenti, Chairman of the Charter Revision Commission, commented that she wanted to clarify some points regarding the Report. Mr. Brown stated that he disagreed and that tonight’s public hearing is to hear comments from the public. Ms. Valenti asked if that meant he would not allow her to speak, to which Mr. Brown responded that is correct.
There being no further questions or comments, the public hearing was closed at 8:20 p.m.
(3) Consider and act on the Charter Revision Commission’s Draft Report
No action was taken by the Board of Selectmen.
(4) Comments from the Public – None.
There being no further business to come before the Board, the special meeting was adjourned at 8:20 p.m.
Kathy A. Kent