The Weston Charter Revision Commission unanimously approved its final report on Tuesday, July 10, and sent it — along with the completely revamped version of the town charter it is proposing — to the Board of Selectman on Thursday, July 12.
“I think I can speak for all of our commission members when I say that we were honored to have been chosen for this important task, that we have enjoyed each other’s company for the last year or so and that we have appreciated this opportunity to serve the town,” said Ken Edgar, co-chairman of the Charter Commission, in an email to the selectmen.
Under state law, the Board of Selectmen — minus Selectman Dennis Tracey — has until Friday, July 27, to approve or reject the commission’s final report. Mr. Tracey is recusing himself from the board’s discussions and decision on the charter proposal because he served as the commission’s co-chairman with Mr. Edgar.
The regular Board of Selectmen’s meeting scheduled for tonight was canceled, but a special meeting will likely be set between now and July 27.
Upon acceptance or rejection of the final report, the commission will automatically dissolve. Other members, who were appointed by the Board of Selectmen in June 2011, include Woody Bliss, Richard Bochinski, Nina Daniel, Arne de Keijzer and Susan Moch.
“I’m amazed at how smoothly, how professionally, and how well the commission members worked together,” said First Selectman Gayle Weinstein. “We chose the members very carefully. They were chosen for their diversity of thought. We wanted to make sure the entire community was well represented. To be able to get those [with such] diverse viewpoints to work together so collegially — I just think they did an amazing job.”
Mr. Edgar said he, too, was impressed with the manner in which the commission was able to function.
“If you look at the composition of our commission, it’s easy to say it crosses a lot of political and other interests in town. But we were able to agree unanimously on basically everything, and that’s extraordinary… That’s not to say people didn’t compromise … but it’s one of accomplishments I’m most proud of,” Mr. Edgar said.
The charter revision process has been nothing if not exhaustive. The commission met 36 times over the past year, conducting interviews and public hearings, collecting comments and suggestions, and discussing and revising the entire charter, section by section and article by article.
In the end, the commission created three separate documents: the proposed new charter; a word-by-word comparison of the old charter and the proposed new one; and a report on the changes, which details the reasons behind the substantive changes being recommended.
An initial report was presented to the Board of Selectmen in June. First Selectman Weinstein and Selectman David Muller had only one change they wanted the commission to make.
In the commission’s initial proposal, it recommended changing the charter to require the annual budget go to a referendum after the Annual Town Budget Meeting (ATBM), but at the machine vote, the new charter would have voters vote for the school budget and a combined town operating and capital budget.
Ms. Weinstein and Mr. Muller agreed that they do not want to see the capital and town operating budgets voted on as one item.
Instead, they wanted to see three items on the referendum ballot: the town operating budget, the school operating budget, and the capital budget, which includes both town and school projects.
The commission agreed to the selectmen’s request. Mr. Edgar told the selectmen when he submitted the commission’s final report, “we adopted your suggestion that the town operating budget and the capital budget be approved separately in the annual town budget referendum, and amended the proposed charter accordingly,” he said.
Mr. Edgar said while the question of whether to keep the town clerk and the tax collector as elected positions or change them to appointed ones probably took up the most time, he believes the most important change the commission is proposing is to the town’s budget approval process.
“We all knew going in it needed to be revisited, and I think and hope our suggestions are very sound,” Mr. Edgar said.
Presentation to voters
If the Board of Selectmen accepts the commission’s report — and Ms. Weinstein said earlier this week she expects it will — the selectmen then need to decide how to present the proposed changes to the voters on the Nov. 6 ballot. She expects that decision will be difficult.
Mr. Edgar said while he has “nothing to do” with how the charter is presented to voters, his personal opinion is that it should be an all or nothing vote — accept the proposed new charter or reject it and keep the current one in place.
The final proposal is not limited to changes in language — although there is some of that — or rearranging of existing elements of the charter — although there is some of that, too. Mr. Edgar said he believes what the commission is proposing is an integrated system of government, and therefore it should be voted on as such.
It would be difficult to separate out each piece of the charter, he said, because the many elements the commission agreed upon work together “to produce a coherent integrated system.” With few exceptions, “each part is related to another part,” he said.
“I believe we ought to vote on the system of government we’ve proposed, and if you don’t like it, then someone has to put together another system of government,” Mr. Edgar said.
The commission’s final report and the proposed new charter is available for review at town hall and also in the town website, westonct.gov.