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Two Major Charter Revisions Would Mean Bigger, More Expensive and Less Transparent Government

A perspective on the Charter Revision Questions that would have the greatest impact on the structure of Town government.

There has been a great deal of discussion about the recommendations of the Charter Revision Commission (CRC) and the nine questions resulting from their deliberations that will appear on the ballot in the upcoming election. The CRC recommendations that have generated the greatest interest and have emerged as the most controversial are the following:

  1. Hiring a Town Manager
  2. Increasing the Board of Selectmen from 3 to 5 members

QUESTION # 1: Shall the Charter be amended to provide for a Town Manager…

The Town Manager would be hired by the Board of Selectmen (BOS) and serve as the chief operational officer of the Town. According to proponents, under this new form of government, the Town Manager would free up the BOS to focus more on policy rather than on “day-to-day” operations. The Town Manager position would reportedly bring a level of consistency and expertise that may not always be a certainty under Brookfield’s current from of government. CRC member, Ron Jaffe, in an advocacy piece recently posted on the Patch, asserts that a Town Manager would be “an accredited professional who has the education and experience to manage organizations, interface with state and federal government, (and) provide consistency when executing multi-year economic development plans, etc.”

Mr. Jaffe also expressed concerns about “the pool of candidates” that we have available for the office of First Selectman, and seemed to compare Brookfield’s municipal elections to a “lottery”, which I suspect would offend a large swath of the electorate that makes a concerted effort to know the issues and the candidates and does not see our biennial vote for the Board of Selectmen and other offices as a game of chance.

Is there not a recurring theme here, implying a lack of confidence—if not a whiff of disdain—for the individuals who have stepped up to the plate and served as First Selectman—effectively and admirably for the most part? The implication seems to be that, yes, they may have muddled through, but now we need a “professional”.

Brookfield recently survived a rogue First Selectmen for two years and a great deal of the credit goes to the other members of the BOS at that time, who, in spite of taking heat from their respective parties as to why they were “propping up this guy rather than letting him fall on his face”, did yeomen’s work to ensure that Town government continued to move forward on an even keel.  These two individuals are indicative of the competence, integrity and commitment to service that has characterized the Brookfield BOS throughout its history.

Adding a Town Manager would represent a profound change in the structure of Brookfield’s government and is not to be taken lightly. Organizational change of this magnitude is generally the result of some negative experience or evidence of adverse outcomes or consequences that provide an impetus for change.

Where is that impetus? There does not appear to be any reason—compelling or otherwise—to undermine and diminish the office of First Selectman through the addition of a Town Manager.

And what about cost?

Looking around the State of Connecticut, and Fairfield County in particular, it is safe to assume that a Town Manager position would probably command a salary in the $150,000 range, and coupled with a benefit package, the total expenditure would be closer to $200,000—and that’s without factoring in the cost of support staff. And before long, there would likely be budget requests for an assistant and additional staff.

If Brookfield voters were to approve the addition of $200,000 or more to the Town budget, they would be much more inclined to put these monies toward the hiring of additional teachers, police officers, improving our recreational facilities, or other direct and tangible benefit, rather than adding another level of management bureaucracy at Town Hall.

Under our current system, Brookfield voters get to hire or fire the First Selectman every two years by exercising their option at the polls. The CRC would like us to believe that the Town Manager would serve at the pleasure of the BOS and could be fired “at will”. Yet, in today’s litigious environment, that is a naïve assertion, as a Town Manager finding himself or herself in that situation would hire a competent attorney to challenge the dismissal and the Town could find itself in a protracted and high-cost lawsuit and a likely expensive contract buyout.

The CRC asserts that the addition of a Town Manager maintains the Town Meeting form of government, but upon further scrutiny, it is not hard to see this as an incremental step—albeit a major one—in the sure and steady slide to a form of government that minimizes and limits the direct access, influence and power of Brookfield voters in determining the future direction of the Town. 

QUESTION # 2: Shall the Charter be amended to provide for a five (5) member Board of Selectmen…

The CRC argument for the move to a five-member Board of Selectmen is that it would provide for more representative government and reflect the fact that with 16,000 residents, Brookfield is a much larger town than when the three-member BOS was first established.

At first blush, the move to increase the BOS from three to five members sounds reasonable. However, such a move presents a potentially troubling aspect by increasing the quorum necessary to conduct official business from the current two to three members. As such, two members, including the First Selectman and a Selectman—regardless of political affiliation—could discuss Town business privately or on the phone and away from the public eye since by not establishing a quorum, the meeting would not be deemed “official” and would not be subject to freedom-of-information (FOI) access.

By maintaining a three-member BOS, Brookfield residents are assured that all matters under the jurisdiction of the BOS must be conducted in public since any meeting would, by definition, include at least two BOS members, i.e., a quorum. Having served on the BOS, this admittedly can prove inconvenient and present some frustrating moments. I believe I even quipped one day that “this is no way to run a business”. But this is not private enterprise, and the public trust must be safeguarded regardless of the sometimes seemingly stilted and inconvenient process.

It should also be noted that the move to increase the BOS from three to five members has been presented as a ballot question in two previous elections: 1997 and 2007.  The proposed change was overwhelmingly rejected by Brookfield voters in both instances. 

In conclusion, it seems rather ironic that while the move across much of the country is for smaller, leaner and more transparent government, these two recommendations from the CRC, if approved, would take Brookfield in precisely the opposite direction. 

..........................

Art Kerley, a former Selectman, is a member of the Planning Commission. He was recently appointed as an alternate on the Brookfield Republican Town Committee.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Chris Delia October 19, 2012 at 02:44 PM
6. Mr. Propper’s solution to the increased cost is to stop paying the Selectman. You claim you can’t find qualified people in the town to be selectmen when you pay them, what kind of people will take on that responsibility when you don’t pay them? If your answer is the same type of people then why didn’t you and Mr. Lesser propose this before the last budget and save the town 90K? 7. I find it personally offensive that members of the Democratic Party in this town think so little of the residents. To say that this town does not have qualified people to hold the office of First Selectmen is ignorant and wrong. We have people in this town that run businesses, companies, families, etc. and the Democrats think they can’t run a town? 8. I find it personally offensive that this First Selectmen and the members of the CRC have so little respect for this town. The fact that they would try to ram something down our throats that we have voted down in the past is reprehensible. If this is what goes on when we have a vote. What will they do when we cant? 9. This town already has highly qualified professionals to help run it. There are 20 departments in this town, all of whom have qualified people running them or they would not be there (I hope). Not to mention the great people we have serving on the various boards. If Mr. Davidson or Mr. Lesser are in over their heads that much, they can call on any number of experts to help them.
Rob Gianazza October 19, 2012 at 03:51 PM
@David, it is no less offensive when you say "prove it", than when Howard does. The proposed charter revisions DO NOT specify that the First Selectman will not be paid. That verbiage is assumed. Question #1 specifically references striking out § C4-13. Compensation. Compensation for the members of the Board of Selectmen (other than the First Selectman) shall be set at the Annual Town Meeting or Town referendum but shall not be less per person than five percent (5%) of the First Selectman's compensation. What was NOT stricken, but renumbered, was § C5-4 C5-5. Compensation. The First Selectman shall receive such compensation as may be determined by the approved Annual Town Budget. So what are we really voting on? Is it what is in the ballot that was provided to us? Because the explanations DO NOT coincide with the supporting document, nor do we have any proof that the supporting document will be honored as presented.
Brian October 19, 2012 at 04:11 PM
1. Citizens have a vote for the policy makers with the selectmen. We would also continue to have votes on policy changes (like these Charter Changes). Citizens would not have a vote on the Town Manager, but this is not much different that the fact we don't have a vote on the Dept Managers. 2. A Town Manager would have loyalties to the Town and the Policies as they are defined. Not the Selectmen who could change every couple of years. 3. Making a restriction that the Town Manager must come from Brookfield will reduce the pool of good candidates, but something to be considered. As for the cost of terminating a Town Manager, keep the contracts to a couple of years but a Town Manager position should not be something that changes over every couple of years...just like the Dept Mgrs don't change over every couple of years 4. Cost yes, no benefit..that is highly debatable and if anyone happened to check out the independant study John Hawley they would see one view that uses some imperical evidence to show a true benefit to the Town Manager model of governemt. 5. Voter turnout is already pathetic within Brookfield...but your assumption that voter turnout would be lower has no merit. Voters would still be going to the polls for all the town offices we vote on today, along with all the policy changes (like this) that are proposed, along with the annual budget, etc.
Brian October 19, 2012 at 04:31 PM
6. Would this change the selectman role, absolutely. But one might argue that it would actually allow more people to consider running for a Selectmen postion as it would be simialr to other board positions which you could do as a volunteer and not as a full time job. 7. Why does it always come down to democratic vs republican? When will we ever learn that it needs to be a bi-partisn effort. The CRC was supposed to be a independant group with members of both parties and all I see is posting of he said she said back and forth. As an Independant t make me sick 8. How is this being "ram something down our throats"? It is a position the CRC has taken with there recommendation which they are bring to a vote. Is that not the right method? They are not unilaterally implementing anything. Seems to me they are bringing this thru our existing, and would be continued form of Town Meeting government. 9. This is not about Mr Davidson or Mr Lesser...this is about the possibility that a change in our government format which moves the day to day operations responsibility to a Town Manager and makes the Selectmen role that of the policy maker and continues to require the ratification of the policy changes by the citizen voters. Those are the facts as an Independant, still undecided voter see them. l can see both pros and cons for this proposed change. All that I hope is the voters look beyond the Rep vs Dem debate...look for facts to make your decision & vote.
Longtime Brookfield resident October 19, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Brian - On your point 1 above - Town will vote for policy makers SCARES me the most - This directly correlates to no one can control his day to day operations and what he does - Again people can say what they want about boards being able to control positions but I still do not believe this. Its proven policies can not control bad descisions 100% - Direct accountability can - these positions breed arrogance and beyond closed door descision that are carefully hidden and protected under policies - Absolutely NO ACCOUNTABILTY or fear of being dismissed.
Steven DeVaux October 19, 2012 at 05:27 PM
LBR, Look no further than Brookfield's Board of Education for a home grown example of what you said.
Brian October 19, 2012 at 05:37 PM
LBR, As I read the CRC recommendations and hear some of the explainations, the point about the Selectmen being Policy Makers and the Town Manager running day to day operations is what I take away as the #1 reason for wanting to have a Town Manager position. It definitely has it's benefits and does raise some concerns. While I agree that policies could never 100% control bad decisions, it's a leap of faith to say the bad decision made by a Town Manager would not be the same bad decision that a First Selectman would not have made within our current government structure. In fact, the article John posted tries to make some claims that a Town Manager would make better fiscal decisions based upon the policies set forth than Selectman would since a Selectman would be influenced based upon what he/she thought might get them reelected (the popular decision is not always the right decision.) A Town Manager would still be subject to supervision by the board of Selectmen. You say you don't believe a Board can control a position...but this is exactly what we have today with the Board of Selectmen controlling the Department Managers. Why would this be any different with the Town Manager position.
Brian October 19, 2012 at 05:37 PM
One arguement against the Town Manager is that it adds another layer of control. Working in a large organization, I can see where a lot of middle managerment does not always help. However in this case, I can see where there could be some tangable benefits. However, one thing that does have me on the fence is this change to a Town Manager should also be tied to a change in the description and role of the Town Selectmen. We should not be adding a new role without clearly changing the other.
Steven DeVaux October 19, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Sometime the simplest answer makes it most transparent. If it ain't broke, don 't fix it. No other First Selectman felt he didn't have the capabilities of doing the job the Charter Revision proposal want to assign to a town manager. None. Therefore after the next election the issue will be cured. Have faith in democracy to correct itself before rushing to change the rules. The charter should not be out on strike one.
Ron Jaffe October 19, 2012 at 06:17 PM
The CRC's recommendation to add a Town Manager was not a reaction to any individual office holder. It was based on months of research, analysis of town/state/national trends, and more. For me, focusing on the operational costs misses the larger point that the existence of an experienced, trained professional has the real potential to pay for itself many times over. I applaud and respect anyone's service to our town. But I also know that in a complex business/government environment elected officials have widely varying levels of experience. Over time, decisions and actions on building projects, negotiated contracts, economic development, staffing, and more have been made by each of our First Selectmen that have had long range impact our our town's finances. In many of these cases, the existence of a Town Manager might have helped produced better outcomes for us all. The CRC learned that one town with a Town Manager was actually able to move a Four Corners type project forward. A key here was providing businesses (those investing in our town) with continuity of support regardless of election outcomes every two years. If a Town Manager can help make the Four Corners Revitalization Plan a reality sooner, that position will have paid for itself. To me, this is a sound business investment. I hope all will come to the forum on Monday October 22 at 7:00 pm at the high school auditorium so we can continue this discussion.
Longtime Brookfield resident October 19, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Brian- you bring up all valid points but I just have the fear we are going to create a bigger problem and lose even more control very similiar to what Mr Devaux points out. It just scares me to create a position that we will have very little control over. If this position is anything like our superintendent position I strongly feel we are heading down the wrong path and it will only cost us the same type of raises in the future just as the superintendent did ( 17%) I just feel we will be back in same position. I do agree the idea of a fiscally responsible Town Manager is very appealling and makes perfect sense but we need to find the right person or this could go bad in a hurry and we will be stuck in a bad position
Chris Delia October 19, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Brian, I will start with your last point first. You certainly do not seem to be an undecided voter. Based on your arguments for the change, you seem to have made up your mind. That is fine, it is still a free country but at least be honest. Now on to your point. 1. This logic does not make sense, we are not talking about dept. heads we are talking about the person that will be in charge of the town. With your logic, why not have a country manager who is only answerable to the president. As I stated earlier, I want the right to vote for who I think should run the town and I want my fellow citizens to have the same right. 2. The Town Manager and the Selectman would protect each other to make sure there is no to little turn around. Do you see any Dept. heads leaving? How long are people on these boards, some decades? There will be no to little checks and balances, when was the last time you seen any board go against any decision made by a Dept. Head? 3. I did not say to make that a requirement, my point was that they most likely will not come from Brookfield and you can read the rest my answer for my point. 4. And why would you to add more tax burdens on the people of this town when it is clearly unnecessary? Would you not agree that the system has been working and that we have people that can do the job of First Selectmen in this town?
Chris Delia October 19, 2012 at 06:37 PM
5. I agree we need to do better as a town when it comes to voting, that is why I think we should find ways to get people involved, not give them more of a reason to feel their vote will not mean anything. 6. For what reason? They would be powerless to do much. As it stands now most of these boards are powerless and give in to the whims of the Dept. Heads. Why you ask? Because it is thrown in their face that they are not the experts. Go to some of these meeting and see what I am talking about. 7. It comes to Republican vs. Democrat because we have two very different views on how the country should be run. The Dems want bigger government, higher spending and fewer rights for the people, all of which they will get with a Town Manager. Republicans want a smaller government, put spending under control and give the people more rights and freedoms. As someone that has fought and was wounded fighting for this country, it makes me sick when others try to take away the freedoms I fought to keep for ALL of us. 8. It is being rammed down our throats because we have voted this down time and again. Rather than accept the will of the people Mr. Davidson and Mr. Lesser want to spend more money to pass their agenda
Chris Delia October 19, 2012 at 06:37 PM
9. It has everything to do with them, they are the ones that wanted this and they are the ones that pushed this. No one in the town was asking for this. 10. I noticed you did not have anything to say about Mr. Davidson or Mr. Lesser seeking the advice of his Department Heads or board members. Why haven’t they? Why do they feel that not only they are unqualified to run the town, but every other person in Brookfield is as well? Lastly, you say you can see both pros and cons but you only talk about the pros of having a Town Manager. Being you are an independent and clearly are not influenced by Reps or Dems, why don’t you tell us about all the cons of having a Town Manager? I mean you are an independent but you only gave one side of the story, just what you accuse us Reps and Dems of doing.
Howard Lasser October 19, 2012 at 06:38 PM
Just curious, why do you oppose # 8. this is a provision that gives greater authority to the Town Meeting. The ability to add to the recomended budget, instead of just reduce it. There are limits on how much and what can be added to. If the interest is in broadening the publics ability to influence government why would anyone oppose giving the Town Meeting greater authority?
Howard Lasser October 19, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Mr. Delia, My name is Lasser, not Lesser. If you want to misrepresent my positions at least get the name right. It is obvious by your comments that you rarely if ever watch Selectmen meetings. Otherwise you would have known that my position was from the begining, regardless of whether I support or not any of the proposals, my commitment to the CRC was if they present well thought out positions with rationale to support it I would support sending it to the voters for their say. If you doubt that please go look at past tapes from the Selectmen meetings. Please tell me how that is raming anything down someones throat or taking away any of your freedoms. I think we should all be respectfull of each others positions. I ask you to please refrain from your personal attacks, particularly since they come with such lack of knowledge. Your opvious intent is to inflame and spread your propaganda rather than the truth.
Chris Delia October 19, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Mr. Lasser, the misspelling was not intentional. Now to the real issue, are you telling me that you had no opinion on this issue? That all you cared about was whether or not the CRC ha “Rational” positions, and then you would support just sending it to the voters? Now who is spewing propaganda? These are not personal attacks; these are about your positions. You ramming this down the throat of the voters because the town has already clearly stated via voting that they do not want this, so why do you keep trying to force it on them? Can you explain exactly what you and Mr. Davison are having such a hard time with? What is it that you cannot or do not know how to do that warrants having the town spend more money to bring in an “expert”. Why is it that you think no one in the town is qualified to run the town? Why do you feel your Dept. Heads cannot guide you in this?
Steven DeVaux October 19, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Chris, Remember that when people speak of trends, they ignore the Hindenberg as the major mode of air travel and that when folks speak about professionals, it was amateurs that built the Arc. The professionals built the Titanic.
Steven DeVaux October 19, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Some folks don't take no for an answer. You know, like when their Mom no and they did it anyway? Then they come back in the next breathe and ask why are you not accepting the "will of the people". This was one of the prime tactics of the socialist in Germany in the 1930's.
Howard Lasser October 19, 2012 at 10:37 PM
Please check out my posting from February: http://brookfield.patch.com/articles/lasser-report-crc-recommendations I have never made a secret of my thoughts and I would hope you would respect my role as a selectman to recount the FACTS to the public. Not merely uninformed opinion. Regardless of whether or not these ideas have been presented before is of no concequence. If 9 people independently come to a conclusion that something is a godd idea I see no reason not to present it to the public. Why do you want to deny the public their opportunity to have a say.
Chris Delia October 19, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Howard, In an earlier post you complained about what you called personal attacks, yet you have done nothing but make personal attacks. I am a very informed person (The type that scares people like you the most). Furthermore the people of this town are well informed, which is why your agenda will fail. I noticed you didn’t answer my last question, “Can you explain exactly what you and Mr. Davidson are having such a hard time with? What is it that you cannot or do not know how to do that warrants having the town spend more money to bring in an “expert”. Why is it that you think no one in the town is qualified to run the town? Why do you feel your Dept. Heads cannot guide you in this? Lastly being that you wanted to make it personal, I will add that I do not have any respect for you as a selectman and what you call facts are nothing more than your agenda. The only thing we will agree on is that the voters will decide.
Bob McGarrah October 20, 2012 at 10:31 AM
Where is the compelling need for making all these changes? Why can town contracts be given with no bid? There is a compelling need that has been ignored. How come Charter review suddenly became Charter revision? Too many whys. Vote NO! Bob McGarrah
Bill Tinsley October 20, 2012 at 11:06 AM
Facts? NO! Assumption, conjecture, bias, YES! Be careful of those who constantly splew and claim fact. In fact, individual, dissassembled statement of fact are many times far from truth.
David Propper October 20, 2012 at 11:27 AM
Chris, it is my belief that the payment to the First Selectman is for the administrative responsibilities that this person holds. Transfer those responsibilities to a Town Manager and I believe that the First Selectman's position (like all other policy making decisions) should be a voluntary position. So long as we keep the administrative responsibilities in the First Selectman's position, they should be paid. I hope that clears things up a little bit on your point 6.
Steven DeVaux October 20, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Well said Bill, well said.
Steven DeVaux October 20, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Chris, Remember that ALL things are opinions, filtered through people mental filters. The only FACTs are the physical laws of nature. Some people even argue them. Laws are merely the agreement of opinions and that the reason we have elections is to change those "opinions". Magicians, snake oil salesmen and politicians merely have a finer mastery of the art of deception.
Steven DeVaux October 20, 2012 at 12:51 PM
People that solve problems, solve problems, they don't change the rules to fit their need - nor do they bully those once established in a postion of authority. Germany was full of that in the 1930's and we saw where that got them Bob.
Ray DiStephan October 20, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Brian, I agree 100% with your analysis of this proposal. Thanks for that articulation. On another note: I think Mr. Kerley made a very well articulated argument to oppose these two revisions, however, it ultimately comes down to what you, as a voter, think is best for the Town. I try to assume good intentions when debates over these issues occur. However, it gets difficult when the arguments become so personal, biased, and political. I don't know why we can't disagree with respect and good dialogue. On that note, I thank Mr. Kerley for the tone of his objections, although I don't agree with his positions. I will choose to support thee CRC's recommendations because I saw a group of non-partisan Brookfielders do a lot of research and work to come to those recommendations. If you disagree, fine. But I see no reason to blame hidden or forced agendas, blind partisanship, covert and deceptive strategies, or anything other than good intentions behind these recommendations. I don't believe that these are absolutely right or absolutely wrong recommendations. They are a matter of choice. I will choose to vote Yes, because that is what I believe would be best for Brookfield. You may see it another way. The majority will decide and we will move on from there. That is democracy at work.
Chris T October 26, 2012 at 03:17 AM
So, basically, I see this as way for the first selectman to keep his out of control spending going without anybody really knowing about it. Particularly, the silly idea of four corners. Secondly, that he can't manage the town, he needs to hire somebody who can do it for him.
Steven DeVaux October 26, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Chris, They need to follow the time honored success of Keep It Simple (KIS), It isn't broke, so we don't need to fix it. Suggest folks voting No just for those two reasons and don't overanalyze it.

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