Board of Finance Member’s Open Letter to Charter Revision Committee

Board of Finance Member’s Open Letter to Charter Revision Committee

Editor’s Note: The following was sent in by J. Philip Gallagher to the Bethel Charter Revision Committee regarding the revision of the Bethel Town Charter–

From: J. Philip Gallagher To: Bethel Charter Revision Committee.

Regarding observations & suggestions for Charter Revision.

Minority Representation.   Reconcile C2-3 dealing with    elected boards and commissions with C7-3 dealing with appointed boards and commissions regarding minority representation.

Board of Selectman C3-4.  The three member Board of Selectmen should remain unchanged in number of members and length of term of office.  There is no demand in Bethel to lengthen the term of office of the First Selectman.  In fact a study of election patterns over the last half-century would lead to an opposite conclusion since Bethel voters have frequently voted Selectmen out of office after a relatively short time.

David Deakin served from 1959 to 1967 and did not seek re-election.

George Birdsall elected in 1967 and lost re-election after one term

Charles McCollam elected in 1969 resigned in 1975. Frank Clarke became first Selectman

Frank Clarke lost re-election in 1981 after three terms

Edward Mills lost re-election in 1983 after one term

Clifford Hurgin lost re-election in 1995 after 6 terms

Charles Steck did not seek re-election in 1999

Judith Novachek lost re-election in 2003 after two terms

Alice Hutchinson lost re-election in 2005 after one term

Robert Burke lost re-election in 2009 after two terms

——-

Minority Selectman:  Provision should be made for the Minority Selectman to make periodic reports to the voters of Bethel. There is little newspaper coverage today of Selectmen’s meetings.

Board of Finance C3-5.  The Board of Finance plays an important role in town government but does not receive the respect for the important work that is  expected of it. Most voters do not have the time to study town finances.  The Board of Finance is elected   to vet spending requests and balance need versus ability to pay. There is a view among some however that the Board of Finance should merely do the arithmetic and pass budget requests on to referendum. The powers of the Board of Finance should not be diminished or usurped by the Board of Selectmen.  In a 1985 Charter Revision the First selectman was removed as a member and Chairman of the Board of Finance and a System of Checks and Balances established. It should be left alone.

Planning and Zoning Commission, Planning and Zoning Commission Alternates, Zoning Board of Appeals, Zoning Board of Appeals Alternates. C3-8 thru C3-11.

Consider limiting service to three consecutive four-year terms.

Inland Wetlands Commission and Alternates. C3-14, 15.

Consider limiting service to three consecutive four-year terms.

Annual town meeting.

B.  Budget Referendum C6-3B

Retain the two separate questions for the Town Operating Budget and Board of Education budget. They are the ultimate advisory questions.

C6-4 Actions Requiring Special Town Meetings.

C.  Add the word demolition to the words sale or lease of real estate.

The value of Town owned Land and Buildings listed in the Bethel’s Annual Report would show a decrease of at least $500,000 once the Town Hall building is destroyed. The legal opinion used to justify demolition concluded that the Selectman on their own could order the demolition of any town owned building as long as they had the money to do so. This is a dangerous concept.

D & E.  Leave the dollar amounts as is. We need to encourage more citizen involvement not less.

C6-5 Petition for Overrule

A.       Do not restrict Democracy by increasing the 5% requirement. It is not as easy to do as some may think particularly those who disagree with the cause of the petitioners.  Within my memory it has been used at least 5 times:

  • To save the Green at the intersection of Wooster and Main St.
  • To challenge an appropriation for design work to convert the Middle School to a Municipal Center
  • To challenge the awarding of a several hundred thousand dollar contract without going out to bid
  • To challenge an appropriation to pay substantial fines for Election Day workers.
  • To challenge the decision to demolish the 1962 Town Hall building.

C6-8 Action Requiring Referendum

This requirement needs to be tightened up so that the letter of the law is always met.

Article IV

Appointed Boards and Commissions.

C7-7 Park and Recreation Commission.

Change to an elected board. The members of this Board administer one of the top five most costly of the Town Departments and should be directly responsible to the voters.

C7-11 Public Utilities Commission.

The two appointed members of this Commission should be elected just as the three Selectmen who also serve on it are.  This commission administers budgets well in excess of a million dollars that the voters have little control or say over.   All members should be accountable to the voters.

C7-13-Library Board of Directors.

This Board should become an elected Board and reduced in size from 12 to 7 members.   Over the years, appointments to this Board have proven to be the most contentious which the Board of Selectmen have to deal with.   Ironically making this an elected Board would take the politics out the selection process and make the members, who annually administer the spending of over a million dollars in taxpayer money, directly responsible to the voters.

C8-8 Town Attorneys.

The method of selecting Bethel’s legal representation should be altered. Legal services should be selected either through bidding or requests for proposals.  This would accomplish two things.  It would save money for an increasingly expensive budget item and make the selection process non-political.

C10-2 Preparation of the Budget

B & C:  Role of the Board of Selectmen:

I strongly urge the continuation of the requirement that the commission chairman or another member   and not a town employee present their budgets.

Question?  Should the voters expect the Board of Selectmen to do more than merely tell the Board of Finance to send large portions of the budget on to referendum without any change? The Board of Selectmen should know what Bethel needs as well as what it can afford.

D, C and F: Role of the Board of Finance:

The Board of Finance spends long hours in budget hearings and budget deliberations.  They weigh carefully the needs of all departments and the schools against the taxpayer’s ability to pay   before presenting their  recommendations at the Public Hearing.  Valid reasons should be brought forth at the Public Hearing before the Board of Finance revises its budget proposal.  In order to revise its proposal after the Public Hearing, a 2/3 vote of members present should be required. This would be similar to what is done in Danbury.

Respectively submitted,

J. P. Gallagher (Board of Tax Review, 1979-1983; Board of Finance 1983-1985, First Chairman, 1985-1987; Majority Selectman, 1987- 1995, Minority Selectman, 1996-1997, Majority Selectman with Minority First Selectman, 1999-2001; Board of Finance 2005 to present, Chairman 2008-2010)

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Posted on October 23, 2012, in Home. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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