Proposed changes to the town charter are one step closer to going to a town vote in November after the Board of Selectmen unanimously voted to accept the Charter Revision Commission’s final report last Wednesday, Aug. 13.
“We have to formally write the questions and approve them before the town clerk can send them off to the secretary of the state’s office,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “The good news is there are only going to be six questions on the ballot.”
The board will vote on the questions at its meeting on Sept. 3. Following that meeting, Town Clerk Barbara Serfilippi will have two weeks to get them to secretary of the state’s office in Hartford by Sept. 17.
Mr. Marconi walked through the language of each question at the last meeting, giving the board a chance to vote on each of the proposed changes.
New boards, on paper
The first question on the ballot will contain all of the changes such as adding three boards — Architectural Advisory Committee, Commission for the Disabled, and Economic Development Commission — to Article 5 of the charter that focuses appointed boards.
These are boards that already exist, but aren’t in the charter.
“A lot of the changes being made are technical — and they’ll make up one question,” Mr. Marconi said.
The second question will focus on the environmental review requirements of donated property, Mr. Marconi said.
The third and fourth questions will ask voters whether the town treasurer and tax collector, respectively, should be appointed or elected positions.
“Those jobs have changed over the last 40 to 50 years,” Mr. Marconi explained. “The treasurer sees 30 to $40 million flow through that office monthly, but there’s no requirement for her to show up because it’s an elected position.”
He added that, if appointed, the treasurer and tax collector would be reviewed concurrently by the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance.
Chain of command
The fifth, and only debated, question regards recognizing the Parks and Recreation Commission as a department of the Town of Ridgefield.
Originally, it was recommended that the Police Commission and the Planning and Zoning Commission be similarly recognized under the revised charter, but that was met with strong opposition.
“I didn’t have a problem with this provision when it included the police and planning commission but I do when Parks and Recreation is being singled out,” said Selectwoman Barbara Manners, who voted against the recommendation.
“Parks and Rec has one of the healthiest commissions in town and one of the best department heads in Paul Roche,” she added. “This is going to be very demoralizing to the department, the head of the department and the commission.”
Mr. Marconi said that wouldn’t be the case.
“We’ve had employees ask for something to be done,” he said.
“It’s my responsibility as chief adviser of the town to make it run as efficiently as possible,” he explained. “I’ve seen this as a weakness that needs to be corrected; if the people want to vote no, so be it.”
He added that the Parks and Recreation department has a large staff of both full-time and part-time workers, who require the involvement of the town’s human resources department.
“There are a lot of administrative issues that we deal with pretty much on a weekly basis, that would certainly justify the director of parks and recreation reporting to the first selectman’s office, since we do so much of the human resources,” Mr. Marconi said. “It’s a people-intensive operation.”
Selectman Di Masters supported Mr. Marconi’s stance on the issue.
“Parks and Rec is very much a department of the town at every budget cycle — you can’t deny that,” she said. “This allows us to codify the business and management of the town going forward.
“You can’t just have a department operating under a different management scheme,” she added.
Ms. Manners didn’t disagree with that opinion, but still voted down the proposed change.
“I just see it as an attempt to exert more authority over them,” she said.
Selectman Maureen Kozlark countered that the change would not be demoralizing for employees of the department.
Mr. Marconi agreed.
“Why would this be demoralizing?” he asked Ms. Manners. “This kind of discussion is what gets that thought going — the fear of power.”
“I don’t have a problem with the commission,” he added. “We’re simply changing the language so it represents what exists already — the goal is to have it run as is, business as usual.”