Council tweaks charter proposals to reflect public comments

by KAITLYN NAPLES
STAFF WRITER
The Plainville Town Council held a special meeting last week to discuss the recommendations the Charter Revision Commission recently presented.
After many speakers voiced various concerns about the changes a few weeks ago, the council did make some suggestions that reflected what the people had asked for.
The major one was to keep the Board of Education budget and the town’s budget as one item to vote on in a referendum. In the recommendations from the commission, the budgets would have been split and voted on separately, which was something many residents opposed in their comments.
At last week’s meeting, councilors agreed to keep the budgets as one, and to eliminate the third vote.
“I disagree with separating the budgets,” said Democrat Councilor Quinn Christopher. “I feel we have made a lot of effort to work together (with the Board of Education) and doing this will divide us again. I heard no benefits in splitting the budgets up.”
Council Vice Chair Scott Saunders said the split vote would allow residents to see how the town is run financially and help them understand how the budgets work.
The council decided to have two votes on the combined budget, and voters will have the option of answering an advisory question on the first vote as to why they voted the way they did. The council then will decide whether or not to increase or decrease the budget after the first vote, if it fails. Voters then will go to the polls a second time, and after that vote, the council will automatically decrease the budget, which then will be deemed the final figure.
Another recommendation that was discussed was reducing the number of votes needed on the council when appointing a town attorney, council chair, council vice chair, town treasurer, and any vacancy on the town council.
Democrat Councilor Chris Wazorko said he felt the votes should remain at five. However Councilor Lee Toffey said when the council loses a member, the number of votes needed to fill that vacancy should also be lowered by one in order to have some kind of ratio. The Republican councilors all approved lowering the votes needed to four, which will also be brought forth to the commission.
Another topic discussed was the investigation section of the charter. It was proposed that any council member could get financial information from town departments, including the Board of Education. Under Freedom of Information, Town Manager Robert Lee said, the council, and any citizen for that matter, has the power to request such information. What Freedom of Information doesn’t cover is eliminating a price tag for information. The council decided to make it clear in the charter that when councilors ask for the information as part of their duties as council members, they will receive the information free of charge.
“It just makes sense to have financial documents available, and shouldn’t have to fight to get a document you’re entitled to,” Toffey said, after stating that she didn’t want any future councilor to have to go through what she and Saunders went through last year in their requests for financial documents from the board.
Last year, the school board agreed to hand over financial information. However, they attached a fee per page. The council and board had several work sessions last year to resolve communication issues.
Wazorko said he felt the ability for councilors to ask for information could become a situation where council members could abuse their power.
“We need to be careful about not abusing that ability,” he said, adding that he wanted to see a clear statement in the charter that said council members wouldn’t be charged a fee for information.
One recommendation eliminated was the one regarding eminent domain. The commission had added a new section that refers to taking private property with an assessed value of greater than $10,000 by eminent domain for public use, including economic development. The move would need to be approved by a two-thirds vote by the Town Council and a simple majority vote at a referendum. The council decided to get rid of that recommendation.
The council was expected to meet with the Charter Revision Commission on Tuesday, to present its changes to the recommendations. Results weren’t available at press time. Once the changes are approved, it will be up to the voters in November to decide whether or not the changes are put into effect.

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