The Bethel Community Gazette
The Bethel Community Gazette
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Hearing on Charter Revisions on Jan. 28

At the January 7th Board of Selectmen meeting, they set the January 28th date for the Board's public hearing about the 21 proposed changes for the Town Charter recommended by the Charter Revision Commission.

The Commission was created in October of 2018 and has held monthly meetings and several public hearings before submitting their recommendations to the Board of Selectmen for review.

After the January 28th hearing, the Commission will finalize their recommendations and then present them to the Town to vote in an upcoming referendum.

Town Issue Forum -- Board of Selectmen Term Change

In October 2018, when the current Charter Commission was created to develop recommendations for possible changes to the Town Charter, something all Connecticut Towns are required to do every five years, the Board of Selectmen included in their list of items for the Commission to consider, a request to change the Board of Selectmen term from it's current 2 year term to a 4 year term. After more than a dozen hearings and meetings, the Commission recently finished their work and in a 4 to 3 decision declined to include a term change in their recommendations. The Board of Selectmen has re-raised the issue and a public hearing is scheduled for January 28th to review the recommendations of the Commission and is expected to include a discussion about the term change. The Bethel Community Gazette invited First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker and Bethel Action Committee Chair Billy Michael to each outline their position on this issue. Mr. Michael's response is included below. The First Selectman declined to provide a response, and so we have instead provided a transcript from the portion of the Board of Selectmen meeting where they discussed and voted on requesting the Charter Revision Commission include a call to change the Board of Selectmen term from 2 to 4 years.

FOR TERM CHANGE

Editor's Note: Mr. Knickerbocker declined to provide a response for this Issues Forum. We have instead gone back to the original Board of Selectmen vote, taken on July 5, 2018, to include the term change request in the list of items they would like to see included in the current Charter Revision. Those wishing to view the discussion for themselves can access it online, starting at minute 3:00 at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vq6PJVpdSq0. What follows is the verbatim motion, discussion and vote on the term change issue by the Board of Selectmen at that July 5, 2018 meeting:

At the July 5, 2018 Special Meeting of the Bethel Board of Selectmen, the board discussed a number of recommended changes to charge the Charter Revision Commission with considering, including the following motion, discussion and vote to include a request to change the term for the Board of Selectmen from 2 to 4 years:

Matt Knickerbocker:

I'll put a motion on the floor that we recommend changing section C3-4, under Board of Selectman, changing the entire Board from a 2 year term to a 4 year term.

Paul Szatkoski:

Second

Matt Knickerbocker:

Okay, any discussion?

Paul Szatkowski:

Yeah, You know I think, personally, we approached this last time, and the reason why I think it failed last time was the fact that we were thinking about going to a five man Board and then having alternating terms, I think it confused everybody.

Matt Knickerbocker:

It got too complictated.

Paul Szatkowski:

Yeah. And now I've got to say if the Board of Education, the Board of Finance, these are all major boards, are four year terms, I think this is sort of consistent. I think this has a reasonable chance of being accepted by the population. Those are my comments.

Matt Knickerbocker:

Alright.

Turns to Mr. Straiton

Rich Straiton:

I agree too. The last time we had the five man board and it was probably more confusing, just like Paul had just mentioned with the offset terms and stuff, and this would be just a straight 4 year term for the 3 selectmen. I think it's a good move.

Matt Knickerbocker:

Okay, then. Any other discussion?

Pause.

Hearing none, those in favor?

Matt Knickerbocker, Paul Szatkowski, Rich Straiton:

Ay

Matt Knickerbocker:

So that carries, so we'll add that.

AGAINST TERM CHANGE

Most voters who have even a minimal knowledge of American history civics (if that term has not yet been rendered obsolete) have heard the phrases, "Balance of Power" and "Checks and Balances."

These two concepts are the cornerstones of the government forged by the Founding Fathers, and have endured over the course of American history in the three branches of government.

Americans have an innate distrust for the concentration of political power. The genius of the American system diffuses power among political actors so that, even if your worst adversaries gained that power, the Constitutional limitations placed on that power affords protection from the "will of the majority."

It is this system that defines the United States as a Constitutional Republic instead of a Pure Democracy.

Currently, in Bethel, there has been a push from the Board of Selectmen to revise terms from a 2-year to a 4-year term of office, as they had also proposed in the last Charter Revision.

That previous request proposed an augmented 5-person Board of Selectmen as well as a 4-year term for the Office of Selectmen. Additionally, that Commission proposed changes that would diminish the role of the Board of Finance.

The proposed concentration of power within the Board of Selectmen undermines the long-held principles of "checks and balances" and "balance of power" and was ultimately rejected at referendum.

The current Charter Commission has wisely chosen to reject the idea of 4-year term, however, the Bethel Selectmen appear unwavering in their support.

That the loudest voices for additional political power spout forth from the very officials that hold the greatest share of municipal power gives us advocates of limited government cause for concern.

The Bethel Action Committee has been involved with every Charter Revision since 1989 and has continually sought to diffuse political power. The passage of the mandatory machine vote on proposed tax increases (1989) is the best example of our uncompromising defense of Town Meeting Form of Government.

The balance of power in Bethel's political affairs is dependent on retaining the 2-year term for the Office of Selectmen.

Billy Michael,

Chair

Bethel Action Committee

Upcoming Public Hearing -- Town Charter Revisions

On Tuesday, January 28th, The Board of Selectmen will hold a Public Hearing to discuss changes to the Bethel Town Charter as recommended by the Charter Revision Committee. After the public hearing, the Board of Selectmen will vote on whether to send the request back to the Revision Commission or to ask for additional changes. After the Revision Commission votes to finalize the change recommendations, they will go to a town referendum for voter consideration.

Changes adopted by the Charter Revision Committee:


I. Allow the use of purchasing cooperatives

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C8-13C4(i)


II. Prohibition on BOF serving on other boards

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C2-5


III. Raise Referendum trigger for capital utility projects to $2M

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C6-8


IV. Change PUC to a seven-member board

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C7-11


V. Remove references to water & sewer from Public Works Department/ clarify duties

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C8-9


VI. Change references to "Comptroller" to "Finance Director"

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: Table of Contents; C8-1, C8-13 A., C8-13 B (1), (2), C8-13 C. (1), (3)

(4ii), D, E, F & G


VII. Terms in office/Technical change from his by adding or her

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C3-2


VIII. Change "Data Processing Department" to "Information-Technology Department"

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C8-13 E


IX. Allow for meetings to be held at CJH Center or town-owned building accessible to the public Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C11-11


X. References to Newspaper Publicationâ€"Added "or another medium consistent with the requirements of the Connecticut General Statutes."

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Sections Revised: C4-4 B., D., C4-5 A., C8-13 C-4ii, C10-2 G., & C10-4 A.


XI. Add section covering resignations and removals of appointed board members

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C7-1 & Formerly Reserved C7-5


XII. Correct proceeding with preceding

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C10-9


XIII. Add "Just Right" to non-binding advisory question

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C6-3 B (3)


XIV. Add that the BOF shall hold a public hearing "not less than seven days or more than" 14 days before Annual Town Budge Meeting

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C10-2 E


XV. Add new section for Department of Public Utilities and the Director of Public Utilities

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: Added to the Table of Contents; C8-1; New Section C8-14


XVI. Have complete construction plans prior to Referendum

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: New Section C6-8 B


XVII. Change Director of Civil Preparedness to Emergency Management Director

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: Change TOC; C8-5


XVIII. Add Overlapping Terms to BOE & Insurance & Pension Commission

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C3-6, C7-15


XIX. Town Budget Meeting Held During the First 14 Days of April

Status: Unanimous Commission Approval; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C6-3 A. (1)


XX. Budget Referendum Held 10 to 15 Business Days After Budget Meeting

Status: Approved by Commission, 1 Abstention; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C6-3 B. (1)


XXI. Special Referendum by Petition Held 10 to 15 Business Days After Certification

Approved by Commission, 1 Abstention; Language Drafted

Section Revised: C6-5 E.


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