Guilford will vote on charter

Friday, October 31, 2008 5:55 AM EDT
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — The charter revision process that has been in the works for more than two years could come to a close Tuesday when voters will see two charter questions on the ballot.

The Board of Selectmen decided in February to allow voters to decide on five changes to the charter, the town’s governing document. The most significant change would be a move from the town meeting system to a representative town meeting, which would include 25 elected representatives.

The RTM would be the town’s legislative body. The plan calls for five representatives from each of the five voting districts.

First Selectman Carl Balestracci said that the town often sees low turnout at town meetings — which any resident over the age of 18 can attend and vote at — prompting the recommendation to move to the representative system. Other area towns, including Branford, have representative town meetings.

“You would have 25 representatives from the five different districts in town who would meet monthly, monthly at a minimum, and they would study the issues,” Balestracci said. “It would be part of their responsibility to be much more educated about the long-term plans.”

The other proposed changes to the charter are: increasing the term of office for selectmen from two to four years, specifying that appointees to a vacant seat will fill out the remainder of the unexpired term, establishing a public works commission and eliminating the position of town treasurer.

The Board of Selectmen has already passed an ordinance setting up the public works commission, but would like to see it codified in the charter. Balestracci pointed out that both the current and a former town treasurer favor the move to eliminate the position, as most of its responsibilities have become part of other departments.

The charter revision items will appear in two separate questions on the ballot, one of which will include the RTM proposal with the other four changes making up the second question.

The Board of Selectmen and members of the Charter Revision Commission recommended splitting the changes into two questions so that if voters decide against the RTM, the other revisions could still pass.

Two selectmen, Joseph Mazza and Sal Catardi, voted against the RTM, largely because of concerns about the process for selecting the representatives. There was disagreement about whether they should all be elected, or whether the town Republican and Democratic committees could appoint members.

“The only (recommendation) that was controversial was the RTM,” Balestracci said. “Both Charter Revision and the Board of Selectmen thought that it would be less confusing to people to have just the two questions rather than to have five or six, just to simplify the ballot really.”

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