Guilford OKs longer terms, rejects RTM

Thursday, November 6, 2008 6:03 AM EST
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — How town government functions will remain essentially the same, but the selectmen’s terms will become four years, as a result of Tuesday’s split decision on two questions to revise the town charter.

Voters rejected a proposal to eliminate the town meeting and adopt a representative town meeting form of government. The RTM would have taken over many of the duties of the town meeting, including approving the annual budget and some appropriations sent to it by other town boards.

The RTM proposal failed by a vote of 6,301 to 5,139, according to the town clerk’s office. A second question that included four charter changes — extending selectmen’s terms of office to four years, establishing a public works commission, eliminating the town treasurer’s position and changing the way vacant seats are filled — passed by a vote of 7,649 to 4,428.

First Selectman Carl Balestracci and Charter Revision Commission Chairman Fred Trotta, both of whom supported the RTM, said they think there was some concern over a provision that members of the body would be nonpartisan. Under the proposal, each of Guilford’s five voting districts would have elected five representatives.

The Board of Selectmen voted 3-2 in February to send the question to voters. Selectmen Sal Catardi and Joseph Mazza dissented, saying they thought that some of the representatives should be appointed or nominated by the town Republican and Democratic committees.

Balestracci called the outcome Tuesday “a little bit of a disappointment.”

“We knew that the question on the RTM was a little controversial with some people because of the nominating procedure,” he said.

The Charter Revision Commission stopped meeting once it presented its final recommendations earlier this year, so the Board of Selectmen would have to form another commission in order to revisit the question. Balestracci said he does not know whether that is likely.

Trotta said he thinks the vote in favor of extending the selectmen’s terms and approving the other changes reflects general support for the elected officials’ work.

“The town of Guilford has been blessed with quality honorable selectpersons,” he said. “I think the town is really reacting to the fact that they truly respect all the good work that the selectmen have done for them in the past and they’re prepared to give them four-year terms.”

Balestracci said the longer terms will allow the board to focus on more long-term projects and not be distracted by frequent election campaigns, as well as encourage more people to run for the full-time first selectman spot.

The four-year term provision will take effect with the municipal election for selectmen next November. The town treasurer position will disappear once current Treasurer Robert Hartmann’s term runs out in 2011, and the finance department will assume his duties. The new procedure to fill vacant seats for the remainder of the term will take effect in the next few months.

The Board of Selectmen has already passed an ordinance establishing a public works commission, but that body will now become part of the town charter.

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