Selectmen consider new Charter Review Commission

Gayle Weinstein

Gayle Weinstein

Now that the town is living with its newly revised charter, it is dealing with some unintended consequences. Less than a year after the last one concluded its work, Weston First Selectman Gayle Weinstein is calling for the creation of another Charter Revision Commission to try to fix some of the problems that have come to light.

“We’ve realized there are some ambiguities in the charter that we need to address,” Ms. Weinstein said at the Board of Selectmen meeting May 2.

What brought the charter discussion to the forefront was the Annual Town Budget Meeting (ATBM) April 24, the first to be held under the new charter’s guidelines. There was some confusion with the implementation of a new requirement to have a quorum (a minimum of 2% of qualified voters) present at the ATBM in order to reduce any portion of the budget.

At the ATBM, the registrars determined a quorum would be 136 people — 2% of the town’s 6,794 registered voters.

However, according to the charter, those who have at least $1,000 worth of assessed property on the town’s grand list but may not be registered are also considered “qualified voters” under the town charter.

It’s unclear whether it’s even possible for the registrars to determine how many people are strictly “grand list only” qualified voters.

Regardless, there was not a quorum at the ATBM — even based just on the number of registered voters — which led to several questions that night.

The first was when and how often a quorum count should be taken. The charter is silent on this issue, and so Ms. Weinstein said the standard procedure set forth in Robert’s Rules of Order was used. The moderator, Woody Bliss, called for a count just prior to voting at the ATBM, after procedural instructions had been read to the attendees.

Then, because more than one vote is taken at the ATBM, the question arose as to whether a count would — or could — be taken later if more people arrived.

Ms. Weinstein said she had consulted with the registrars and the town attorney before the meeting and they had agreed the count would be taken only once.

However, Mr. Bliss said at one point during the ATBM that he would deal with an increase in attendance if that occurred.

Ms. Weinstein said after the ATBM that Robert’s Rules of Order does allow a moderator to call for another quorum count if he or she notices a “mass influx or exit” from a meeting, but it is not done if small numbers trickle in or out of a meeting.

The bigger question, Ms. Weinstein said, is what should happen once it’s determined a quorum is not met at the ATBM.

The charter states that no portion of the budget may be raised at the ATBM, and portions may be reduced only if there is a quorum. However, a machine vote on the budget “as approved by the Annual Town Meeting” is necessary for final approval of the annual budget.

The charter is again silent when it comes to the question of whether it is appropriate and necessary for discussion and/or voting on the budget at the ATBM if the lack of a quorum renders any vote moot.

The solution at the latest ATBM was that the Town Meeting voted to “move forward to referendum” the numbers as put forth by the Board of Finance.

But Ms. Weinstein said she would like to see it clarified in the charter, rather than leaving it up to the meeting moderator or a town attorney decision every year. She said she would recommend changing the charter to say that if there is no quorum, the Board of Finance-recommended numbers automatically go to referendum and the Town Meeting is adjourned to referendum.

“At the very least, I think this needs to be discussed,” Ms. Weinstein told her fellow selectmen last week. “Now that we’re living with the charter, we’re realizing there are some problems.”

She added that other difficulties have come to light, such as a new requirement to advertise publicly for certain positions that are actually limited to union members. These should also be corrected, she said.

New commission

Ms. Weinstein at first recommended “reconstituting” the previous Charter Revision Commission and asking it to address these specific questions.

However, the selectmen realized five of the seven members of that commission are now elected officials (Selectman Dennis Tracey and P&Z member Ken Edgar were co-chairmen, and Police Commissioner Susan Moch and school board members Dick Bochinski and Nina Daniel were commission members, along with Mr. Bliss and Arne de Keijzer). Only two were elected officials at the time the commission was originally appointed. Two is the maximum number of elected officials allowed by state law to serve on the Charter Revision Commission.

Mr. Tracey was asked if he thinks a new commission — especially one that had at least a few of the previous members on it — would be able to address some of these charter issues in time for any recommendations to go on the November ballot.

“Given the dedication of the members, and particularly my former co-chair, I have no doubt we can get it done,” Mr. Tracey said.

The selectmen agreed to discuss the possibility of appointing another Charter Revision Commission at their next meeting, Thursday, May 16, at 7:30 p.m. at town hall.

Those interested in serving on the commission may contact Judy Devito at 203-222-2656 or email [email protected] (see story on above).

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