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Proposed Naugatuck Charter Changes Heading to Referendum

The Board of Mayor and Burgesses voted to send several proposed changes to the Naugatuck Town Charter to a voter referendum to occur during the November 2012 presidential election.

After two tie-breaking decisions by Mayor Robert Mezzo, all but one of a number of proposed changes to Naugatuck’s charter will be on put on the ballot during the presidential election in 2012.

The Board of Mayor and Burgesses met Wednesday evening in the Hall of Burgesses to decide on a series of proposed changes to the Naugatuck Town Charter, the borough’s top document, that were compiled previously by the Charter Revision Committee (CRC).

Following Wednesday’s meeting, borough residents can expect to vote on the proposed changes in a referendum, along side the local and national election candidates.

Never before has Mezzo had to break a tie vote during a Board of Mayor and Burgesses meeting, but two hotly debated recommendations forced him to make the final call.

“It was good debate,” Mezzo said. “Any time you’re changing your charter, its hard lengthy process, as it should be. Respectful disagreement is healthy.”

The recommendation debated most during the meeting was the proposed changing of the town clerk and assistant town clerk positions from elected to appointed positions. Originally, the proposal had also included the tax collector position and burgesses were confused to see that that provision had been removed between the draft and the final report.

“I find it so odd that this was split the way it was,” said Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi, “I’m gong to vote against it, because I don’t agree with [the CRC] partially addressing this. They both should be coming out of the political process.”

Burgess Robert Neth defended the decision.

“We want the best possible person in that position, by a contract,” Neth said about the town clerk position. “We don’t want somebody in there who doesn’t have a clue about the office.”

CRC Chairman Andrew Bottnick, who was seated as an audience member, argued that his committee felt the residents wanted the tax collector to be someone they could reach out to and have direct input in choosing.

“If you really want to boil it down, the town clerk is a much more complicated position,” Bottnick said.

When the roll call vote came down to a tie, Mezzo said he would support the provision because he thinks the town clerk should be subject to the HR background check and interview process, but noted that he still finds it “absolutely ridiculous” that the tax collector is exempted from the same HR process “as he carries a bag of money down the street to the bank.”

The second provision that ended in a tie vote was the proposal to change the town’s bidding process. Mezzo explained that the provision was “basically removing our bidding process from the charter and allowing this board to set parameters by ordinance.”

This concerned some burgesses who felt the change would give too much power to the borough board and create an infinite loop by giving the board the ability to further change bidding process by an additional ordinance. Bottnick said he had faith in that the power would be used responsibly, but others remained concerned.

“I believe that checks and balanced are important,” Rossi said, “I don’t feel that there is enough substance here for me to feel comfortable with this.”

Mezzo ultimately voted no when the vote came down to a tie, sticking with his originally decision.

Several of the recommendations, however, passed with no discussion or descending votes including the changing of municipal elections from the current May cycle to a November cycle, the elimination of outdated language from the charter, the elimination of non-existent offices from the charter and a revision to the budget referendum process that would require fewer signatures on a second and third attempt as a referendum.

Mezzo chose to abstain from voting on the recommendation to extend the terms of borough mayors from two years to four years, though implementing the recommendation would not affect his current term. The recommendation passed 7-2, with burgesses Scully and Burns voting to reject it.

This vote helped to start wrapping up a lengthy process that . The borough board approved a seven-member Charter Revision Committee in December of 2010 and ultimately . Per their nine-month deadline, the committee delivered a draft proposal in September of this year and, after a series of public meetings to allow for feedback from residents, presented a final report on December 17.

“I don’t think it’s over,” Mezzo said. “I think that there are some issues out there that have come up since the original appointments.”

The mayor said there are more questions that need to be answered.

The provision rejected Wednesday can be challenged any time in the next 45 days by a petition to referendum with 10 percent of the borough’s signatures. After that time passes, the CRC will move forward with finalizing the language for the questions on the referendum, which will be approved by the borough board before voting takes place in November.

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