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Republican Town Committee Opposition to Charter Revisions — Why I think they're wrong.

I believe there are compelling reasons to support the Charter Revision ballot questions — regardless of party affiliation.

Let me start by saying that I endorse the proposed Charter Revision changes. These reasonable and important modifications would improve the management and governance of our town while retaining the Town Meeting form of government. These proposed revisions  were worked on, researched, and developed by people you know — dedicated community members who worked for a year and a half to develop recommendations they unanimously endorsed.

Brookfield's Republican Town Committee (BTRC) has taken a very public stance opposing all proposed Charter Revision changes. Their statement to this effect has been on their website for months. I suspect this is in fact an overstatement — I'm not sure that anyone really opposes the idea of allowing advisory questions to be included in budget referendums (Ballot Question # 4). 

But the BRTC has been quite vocal from the time the Charter Revision Commission was established that they opposed some of the larger changes the Commission was considering. I was honored to be on the 9-member Charter Revision Commission. I have rarely worked with a group of detail oriented, dedicated, conscientious volunteers who came with varying perspectives but who worked collaboratively to come to unanimous consensus on what to present to the Town. Our deliberations were respectful, our research thorough, our discussions non-partisan, our meetings open and transparent. And our recommendations are worth understanding. 

But right now, I'd like to focus on the two questions the BRTC specifically discusses.

Question #1: Addition of Town Manager 

The BTRC says voters should hire and fire the person running town government every 2 years. What is being proposed is that the position of First Selectman remains, but that the operational functions be turned over to an accredited professional who has the education and experience to manage organizations, interface with state and federal government, provide consistency when executing multi-year economic development plans, etc. The proposed change creates an operational position — but keeps policy decisions where it currently exists — with the Board of Selectmen. 

The BTRC believes that voters are doing a great job of hiring and firing individuals to run day to day operations of our town. I certainly have faith in voters. My concerns, however, go to the variability of the pool of candidates we actually have to vote on every 2 years. If you were investing in a $20-million private business, would you hold a lottery every 2 years to see who would manage your investment or would you hire a trained professional who had the necessary skills? While I applaud anyone who puts themselves up for election, the fact is that our First Selectmen have had varying levels of experience (or lack of experience) with finances, contract negotiation, municipal construction, public health, etc. It is also true that far more municipalities are moving to inclusion of a town manager rather than away from one. If you want to understand a bit more about Town Managers, look at the association website: icma.org

The BTRC says that it is a well documented fact that towns with town managers experience a drop in voter turnout. The Commission looked into this claim. One of the assets the Commission had was a WestConn student whose research showed no cause and effect relationship between having a Town Manager and smaller voter turnout.  My own observation is that — particularly in local elections — turnout is high when there's a controversy, so low turnouts could reasonably be the result of voter satisfaction. 

As for the town's ability to get rid of a Town Manager, if we sign an at-will contract we can terminate the Town Manager's contract at any time (and at-will contracts appear to be standard). The statement that it would be difficult and expensive to get rid of a town manager simply does not reflect what I learned while on the Commission. Simply put, the Town Manager would serve at the pleasure of the Board of Selectmen. 

Question #2: Expand Board of Selectmen to 5 members (currently 3)

Opposition to this proposed revision, quite frankly, makes no sense to me. In a town of 17,000 people, our current Board of Selectmen allows as few as 2 individuals (on a split vote) to make policy decisions. Astounding. To me, the best argument to expand the Board of Selectmen (BOS) to 5 is that additional perspectives and backgrounds would enhance discussions and lead to better decisions for the Town.

The BTRC says that a 5 member board would promote secretive town government. Let's understand the realities of where we are right now. Current FOI (Freedom of Information) law prohibits a quorum (a majority of board members) from discussing town business as that would constitute a meeting, and meetings need to be noticed (announced in advance and posted) and open to the public. The only exception to this is that members of a political party can meet as a caucus to discuss issues. So for the current Board of Selectmen, 2 members of a political party can talk but there can be no discussion across party lines. 

Several observations here.

First — based on numbers, members of the Board of Education (BOE) and Board of Finance (BOF) DO have the opportunity currently to have discussions across party lines. So this recommendation would provide BOS members with the same opportunity that BOE and BOF members already have. But more importantly, understand that political caucuses do take place right now. I am not saying that anything is wrong with this — members of a party have the right to meet and agree on strategy. But I don't hear complaints that these current caucuses promote secretive government. Remember that what's being proposed in fact expands the potential for discussion beyond political affiliation. How can this be a bad thing?

The BTRC says that expansion from 3 to 5 Selectmen will increase the size and cost of government. If adding 2 citizen representatives to the Board of Selectmen is an expansion of government, I'm all for it. As for cost, one of the recommendations of the Commission (included in Question #1: C4-13) is the elimination from the Charter of any requirement that Selectmen be paid, leaving all decisions on payment (whether to pay, how much to pay) to be made during our annual budget process. This proposal in fact provides the town more flexibility than our current Charter. But it also reflects the Commissions belief that the Board of Selectmen could be all volunteer.

Finally, the BTRC says that we've been served well by a 3-member board. Perhaps. But I believe that the town would be served far better by a larger board that has the capacity to be more representative. Of the 13 towns in CT with similar populations (15,000 to 20,000) and a Selectmen/Town Meeting form of government, only 4 have 3 Selectmen. The other towns of similar size have between 5 and 12 Selectmen. Expanding our Board of Selectmen from 3 to 5 may not be 'an emergency' but Charter Revision Commissions have proposed the same revision consistently over the years. It's time for Brookfield to make this move.

I've gone on a while, but these are complex issues and sound bytes should not determine your understanding of the revisions you'll be see on the ballot on November 6. The ballot is complicated, but it is important that we understand every one of the Charter Revision questions. 

The Charter Revision Commission unanimously endorsed all of the recommendations. The Board of Selectmen chose to allow Brookfield voters to have the opportunity to consider all of the recommendations. I urge all voters to learn about the Charter Revision questions, and I hope you chose to support these important modifications that will help our town run more effectively.  There will be a public forum at the library on Monday October 22 (7:00 pm) where the Charter Revision Questions will be discussed. This will be a great opportunity to learn more.      

Remember to vote on November 6 — and to vote on all of the ballot questions.

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.

Rob Gianazza October 11, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Howard, why are you clarifying this now? Why wasn't it in the original documentation presented to the community? How many more of these "Just to clarify" little details were omitted from the published revisions? We cannot support open ended revisions that only have your personal "just to clarify" notes as assurances that these revisions will not be used in a manner other than presented.
Howard Lasser October 11, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Rob, I suggest you read the Charter Revision Commissions report. Then you won't need further clarification. Some of the comments reveal a lack of knowledge of the current charter. I do not think it is a bad thing to help people to a better understanding. I am sorry if you do.
Rob Gianazza October 11, 2012 at 02:44 PM
So it wasn't all presented here in the Patch, complete and un-edited? Perhaps since you are so fond of challenging people to be specific, you would be kind enough to share with us the exact verbiage from the document rather than your interpretation of it? Thanks in advance.
Ray DiStephan October 11, 2012 at 02:53 PM
it's sad that the hard work of a non-partisan group has been made to be such a partisan issue. And yes.. I think the BRTC did that with the statement on their web site: "The Brookfield Republican Town Committee (“BRTC”) unanimously opposes the currently proposed Charter Revisions, the two largest of which are set forth below." And Jerry... that sound slike a "vote no to all revisions" to me. If that is not the BRTC stance, perhaps they should clarify. But I think it is important to note that the BRTC does not speak for all Brookfield Republicans any more than the BDTC speaks for all Democrats. People should educate themselves on these complex revisions and make their own decisions. This should not come down to "party loyalty". Partisanship should not dictate Brookfield's path. I know that Brookfield's political plurality likely believes that considering the plurality of registered voters in Town are Independents.
Howard Lasser October 11, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Rob, First of all, it is not my interpretation, I was merely pointing out the actual Charter provisions. Second the Charter Revision Commissions report is public record. Third I am not responsible for what Patch or any other media outlet publishes. Finally in my email newsletter that I sent out this morning I offered to send it to anyone interested. I already sent a copy to you.
Tully Lopz October 11, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Dinosaurs once ruled the world... Major U.S. companies such as Kodak and Xerox missed the vision for the future failing to adapt to market conditions and by refusing to challenge the status quo; Brookfield is a progressive town with an emerging dynamic population willing to adapt progressive, sound managing initiatives. The CRC initiatives me sense and should be approved.
Longtime Brookfield resident October 11, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Correct me if I am wrong but by hiring the "Town Manager" we would be basically duplicating the same situation as we currently have in our school system - Board of Ed setting policy and the Superintendent being allowed to run day to day operations with no one to directly answser too. So again maybe I am wrong but looks like the BOS and BOF would mirror BOE and the Town Manager can basically run town as he or she sees fit- Not saying if this is good or bad just trying to understand.
Ray DiStephan October 11, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Well I would argue that point right off my saying that the Superintendent is directly responsible to the elected BOE. We set his goals, evaluate his perfromance, decide on his compensation and benefits and approve all policies that dictate the running of the schools, as well as approve the funds and set the budget. Additionally, The BOE can hire and fire the Superintedent, so I do not agree that the Superintendent runs the day-to-day operations with no oversight... much to the contrary. But there is some overlap in the concept. There is also a model in the private corporate sector where shareholders vote on the big issues, Boards of directors set policy ,etc for the company and the CEO or other single leader carries out the day-to-day wishes of teh Board of Directors and shareholders.
Longtime Brookfield resident October 11, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Ray - Thanks for your response - So then the BOE can tell the superintendent how to run his day to day operations ?
Ray DiStephan October 11, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Not a yes or no question... not being evasive at all, it just requires some clarifying. First, the BOE or any Board can only take action as a Board. BOE meetings must be posted and follow agendas, etc. Single Board members have no authority by themselves. The BOE's role is to set policy, review and approve curriculum, review and approve financials, set the annual budget (which needs approval of the BOF and the residents of the Town), and to supervise the Superintendent of Schools. The Day-to-day operations are the RESPONSIBILITY of the Superintendent. That does NOT mean that he/she is free to "do whatever he/she wants" with no oversight. The Superintendent reports to the BOE. So the BOE does not run or dictate how the Superintendent operates on a day-to-day basis directly, but they do set the policies that dictate those operations and they evaluate his/her performance and have the power to make changes in that position if needed. This also true of corporate boards and their CEOs. The CEO runs the company, but reports to his/her respective Board.
Longtime Brookfield resident October 11, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Ray - Thanks again so then the Town Manager would basically operate in the same capacity as the Superintendent then - With Town Manager overseeing and Superintendent overseeing the schools
Ray DiStephan October 11, 2012 at 05:57 PM
I don't want to speak in detail about the Town Manger's role since I was not on the CRC and don't know the finer parts of that position, but in broad strokes, yes... there is a similarity in design in terms of a Superintendent or a CEO as I understand it. If one were to consider that Brookfield it a "business" requiring the management of dozens of employees and millions of dollars, I think it would be prudent to have a professional at the helm. It isn't whether or not an elected resident could do the job, but more of whom would be better suited to do it. My belief is the professional with residential oversight. Many Towns have adopted this framework. I don't believe they have reported additional layers or barriers of government. In fact, some reported excellent growth under this model. I believe it has more of a "21st century" sense to it.
Rob Gianazza October 11, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Howard, thank you for sharing the Brookfield Charter Final Report. It is indeed different from what has been distributed and discussed informally. The problem is that it doesn't say what you just clarified. What is says is: § C5-4 C5-5. Compensation. The First Selectman shall receive such compensation as may be determined by the approved Annual Town Budget. There is a problem with copying strikeouts, Article V of the proposed charter does need to be read and discussed in detail. As the ballot questions do not accurately reflect the Charter Final Report, nor is it clear from the explanations that they are a direct replacement for the text to be adopted in the Charter after the referendum.
Rob Gianazza October 11, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Howard, I see a lot of excuses in your response to me. First of all it is your interpretation, as I pointed out. Don't hide behind "public record". I appreciate you sharing it with me and offering it to others, but we're not voting on the report. We're voting on nine specific charter revisions with explanations. If the explanations don't cover it or reference it, it's not a game of go see where you can find it. And don't say "I don't control the Patch or other sources", that's just a cop out. If you want to clarify, you need to quote your specific source.
Howard Lasser October 11, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Rob, the recommendations do strike out the requirement for the First Selectman to be a full time employee (C5-1) and they strike out the requirement to pay the other Selectmen (C4-13). The Town Attorney would disagree with your assessment that the questions do not reflect the recommendations as included in the Committee report. I am not going to debate that.
Howard Lasser October 11, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Rob, you are just wrong. The Town Attorney drew up the questions with specific reference to the places in the Charter that would change. The space limitations of a ballot make it difficult to show the before and after language but the specific citations are in the ballot questions. You have a copy of the specific changes that are cited and it is available to anyone who wants it. If you have a concern I suggest you address the question to the Town Attorney as to the legitimacy of that process.
David Propper October 11, 2012 at 06:49 PM
LBR, to be clear, the Town Manager would NOT be able to "run the town as he/she sees fit". The Town Manager would be an employee of the town just like the Controller and Chief of Police. Policy is and will be controlled by the BOS. In voting my approval of this recommendation as a member of the CRC, I saw the Town Manager position as a decoupling of the administrative and policy creation roles that we currently have in the First Selectman position. The potential of having the administrative manager of town being a certified, credentialed, experienced profession being managed by Brookfield residents on the BOS was very attractive of me. ...
Rob Gianazza October 11, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Howard, I quoted directly from the document you gave me. You can't have it both ways. Either the document contradicts itself, or you are wrong. C5-4, which was C5-5, was not stricken from the document. It states "The First Selectman shall receive such compensation as may be determined by the approved Annual Town Budget." You are making excuses and using the Town Attorney as some sort of magic justification. Guess what, he missed it! What else did he miss? I'll be waiting for your apology.
Howard Lasser October 11, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Rob, this is what I wrote: "Currently the Charter requires the First Selectman to be a full time employee of the Town and that the Selectmen receive a stipend that is a percentage of the First Selectman’s salary. These provisions are deleted in the recommendations. The statements about additional personnel or space requirements are, at best, speculation." What is wrong? I did not say it removes the discussion from the annual budget but it does remove the requirement he be a full time employee. ...
Rob Gianazza October 11, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Howard, you are terrible at apologies. What you said was "Rob, you are just wrong". You are aware that everything we type is all here, right? I showed you by quoting directly from the document you shared with me and now you are trying to worm your way out of it. C4-13 refers to the selectmen excluding the first selectman. C5-1 Refers to the first selectman. But C5-4 has not been eliminated from the proposed charter revisions. I never mentioned additional staff or space requirements. My point is that the proposed charter revisions and explanations are left somewhat open to interpretation and I believe that is what the concern is. We need to close those perceived loop holes so everyone has a clear understanding of what we are voting for or against.
LFerrara October 11, 2012 at 08:16 PM
If I may go off on a slight tangent...I have a question. Why are all nine revisions being voted on all at once. I agree the Charter should be fluid to a certain extent to continue to meet the needs of the town, but these questions are so drastically varied in their significance. Some of the questions are minor adjustments while others are "big deal" questions. It's so confusing. Why can't you just add two questions or so to the ballot each year? Why all at once? I apologize if this is a silly question, I'm just tryin to understand this part of the process a little more.
Jerry Friedrich October 11, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Howard, as I understand the current Selectman situation, the selectman ( not First Selectman) will always be of different parties one of which will be (most likely) from the same party as the First Selectman. Have we ever had the First Selectman from one party and both Selectman from another ? Not in my memory.The current ( First Selectman and 2 Selectman) situation ensures the First Selectman a high degree of authority since in most cases he only needs to convince 1 selectman to agree with his/her point.. Only when the 2 Selectman team up can they control the process. Different parties performing over site is better. In my example if the First Selectman is not a member of the majority ( 3 selectman of the same party which most likely will vote similarly although not guaranteed) can lock out the First Selectman's recommendation rendering him or her relatively powerless.Not only would the First Selectman have to convince the selectman from his own party but also at least one from the opposition party to pass a vote. This is certainly possible but, it would be equivalent to require a unanimous vote in the current configuration. This is a more political situation which in a small town like ours is more likely.
Jerry Friedrich October 11, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Ray, if the issue is expertise, why doesn't the First Selectman just hire someone to assist in that area? He/She can do that if they want today ? Why do we have to change the Charter ?
Rob Gianazza October 11, 2012 at 10:41 PM
There are no silly questions, sometimes silly responders though... The nine charter revision questions are being asked individually. You can choose to support some and not support others. It seems that some of the questions need to be grouped, but that is not the case. So it is important to also take that into consideration when forming your decisions.
LFerrara October 11, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Yes, that I am clear on. I meant why all in one year rather than one or two each November? This is confusing for individuals who don't follow these issues regularly.
Ron Jaffe October 11, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Good question. When the CRC was established, the BOS provided a few suggestions of areas for the CRC to examine. The CRC was not bound by these suggestions nor was it required to make recommendations on these issues. The CRC functioned as a totally independent group, with the ability to look at as few or as many issues as it determined were worthwhile. At the end of its process, the CRC chose to make a number of recommendations to the BOS. The BOS then had the authority to reject each recommendation (effectively ending the process for that question), or accept each recommendation (moving that question forward for the town to vote on whether to accept or not). The BOS could have accepted or rejected the recommendations in whole or in part, but they chose to let the town decide on each of the 9 questions. State Statute dictates many procedures regarding charter revisions, and once the commission makes recommendations and the BOS accepts them, it is my understanding that there is a finite timeframe for the town to vote. Lastly, we are required to establish a CRC every 5 years. I agree that not all of the questions are of the same magnitude, but right or wrong, both the Commission and the BOS chose to move all 9 questions forward. In my view, each of the questions has merit, and works to improve the management and governance of our town while retaining our town meeting form of government. The key now is for us to understand the details of what's being proposed.
David Propper October 12, 2012 at 12:23 AM
The CRC was comprised of 4 Republicans, 4 Democrats, and 1 unaffiliated voter.
Steven DeVaux October 12, 2012 at 11:46 AM
Rob, Don't you just love it when an issue requires the splitting of hairs and nuances instead of a simple answer? It sounds like attorney or paid politician speak.They can't fix that problem so they change the problem....not the solution. Theirs was an answer - this is the THIRD time - in search of a question.
Jane Gallagher November 06, 2012 at 12:18 PM
Really? Town Manager sounds great - Progressive - BUT DELETE the First Selectman, five PAID town officials - get real!! Raise taxes to pay them NO WAY!! The real way is to say delete all PAID officials and we have a committee who do not have a six figure salary for "lunching" with the town! Put that huge chunk of dough to grow in a fund to help where the town needs growth and improvement - I say have a committee of FIVE folks who WANT to take on town duties! Go back to the way a real town functions.... UNPAID committee - the women of the town used to do all the organizing back in the day while the men worked the fields and it cost the town NOTHING Baby!!! Wake up Brookfield - stop letting them suck the money from you - you WORKED for it - you can spend it as you like!!
Steven DeVaux November 06, 2012 at 12:22 PM
Well said Jane. You sized up the CRC membership perfectly.

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