The Brookfield Board of Selectmen (BOS) is holding the last public hearing on the 2012 charter revision Thursday night at 7 p.m. in before making its final recommendations to the Charter Revision Committee (CRC).
The CRC will have until May 10 to finalize their list of charter changes and amendments from the draft report [see attached]. The BOS will then chose which from among those revisions will be included on the ballot in November.
Along with some minor clerical and technical changes, there are four major issues being suggested for this revision, some of which have mixed support.
The selectmen spoke about their initial thoughts on the CRC draft report at their April board meeting, generally showing support for most of the proposals.
Structure of Town Government
Perhaps the most substantive changes to the way Brookfield operates are the proposals to to oversee town operations (similar to a Superintendent of Schools) and increasing the membership of the BOS from three positions to five.
Selectman Howard Lasser said he has “no objection to the recommendation” for a professional Town Manager going to the voters, however he asked that the CRC clarify “some inconsistencies about who hires employees in town” and “greater definition of the role of the First Selectman.”
First Selectman Bill Davidson, who is a strong proponent of both the Town Manager and a five-member BOS, suggested that the First Selectman be “the chief executive officer of the town and should have the duties except those duties relegated to the Town Manager,” whereas the First Selectman would represent the town and oversee political matters while the Manager runs the day-to-day.
To avoid overlap and confusion, “If it’s not specifically defined by the Town Manager, it falls to the First Selectman and Board of Selectmen,” Davidson said.
Selectman George Walker said he was “struggling with this because I basically can’t agree with the Town Manager concept… I’m not so sure this community is ready for a Town Manager, for that form of government.”
Walker suggested the town look into hiring “an operations manager instead,” an at-will employee with less power than a Town Manager, but a position that would not require a charter revision to experiment with.
“If their [CRC] recommendations are founded on sound reasoning and research, whether I support them or not, I think they deserve the opportunity to stand before the public,” Lasser said.
Walker agreed when it came to the five-member BOS, stating that he “favors that we stay with three, however there’s a lot of really good arguments about going to five.”
“The town is going to make that decision,” he said, “And I would support, in that particular case, that we put this up for the election.”
Davidson also suggested that the CRC consider raising the percent of registered voters required to overturn a BOS decision or call a referendum from 4 percent to 6 percent.
With just over 10,000 registered voters in town, “600 is not an unreasonable number to overturn the decision of the selectmen,” Davidson said.
The threshold for petitioning various actions in town government varies throughout the current charter, but is generally between 2-3 percent, CRC Chairman Larry Miller explained, prompting the committee to propose a flat 4 percent to simplify and modernize the process.
“2 percent is too low,” Miller said during a recent interview, as needing only 200 signatures leaves the process “open to frivolous things, however, “In my personal view is [6 percent] is reaching a little too far,” he added, though the committee has not discussed the matter yet as a group.
Both Selectmen Lasser and Walker said they were comfortable with the 4 percent number.
Possible Addition, One Subtraction
Miller said he liked Lasser’s idea of empowering residents to increase budget line items at the Annual Town Meeting, rather than restricting it to decreasing line items, as does the current charter.
“Voters aught to be able to raise the numbers if they want to,” Miller said, though he would put limits on how high they could be raised, suggesting possibly allowing residents to “restore a line to the original budget submitted by the Board of Education or Board of Selectmen.”
Since the CRC , they committee has removed combining the Planning and Zoning Commissions into a single body.
“Most towns do have a combined planning and zoning commission,” Miller said, however they “also have a town planner; in the absence of a town planner, we had second thoughts about it.”
Walker acknowledged that there had been some negative comment about the combination of the two land use commissions but that he thought there might be some merit in it and could warrant reconsideration.
“There are those in favor and those who are not in favor” of one recommendation or another, Miller said. “But I’m thinking the demographic in Brookfield is starting to change. I’ve been here 20 years and there’s a younger crowd coming in.”
Miller said he is anxious to hear the BOS’s final recommendations and, ultimately, what the voters have to say in November.