Trumbull voters to decide on these charter changes on Election Day
TRUMBULL — After seven months, more than a dozen committee meetings, two public hearings and a critique by the town council, Trumbull residents will get a chance to vote on a trio of revisions to the town charter.
Kate Donahue, chairwoman of the Charter Revision Committee, said the change derived from hours of discussion among the committee and more than 80 pieces of correspondence from the public.
“It was a good working committee, and we didn’t always agree on everything,” Donahue said. “But we took everyone’s feedback, and even when votes on specific recommendations weren’t unanimous, the final vote to send our report to the council was.”
The council approved sending the recommended charter changes, about 40 in all, to the voters as three separate questions. The one voters are most likely to notice is Question 2, which proposes increasing the Board of Education from seven members to eight, with no more than four members from any political party, and staggered four-year terms so half the board is up for reelection every two years.
Donahue said the rationale behind the change was to reduce partisanship.
“For many years, we had a six-member board, and we added a seventh member in a previous charter revision,” she said.
Anecdotally, town officials have said the board seemed to work together better when there were six members. Adding a seventh member seemingly introduced partisan politics to a board that should be focused on Trumbull children, Donahue said.
“We had considered going back to six, but the workload on board members has grown,” she said. “There was bipartisan support for going to eight, to spread the work around, and with staggered terms to give some stability and institutional memory.”
The main negative with the proposed eight-member board is how to break ties. Donahue said the members would simply have to come up with a solution that’s agreed upon by five members.
The other single-issue revision is Question 3, which allows for a referendum when the town is planning a large project.
Since the 2011 revision, the charter allows for a referendum on building projects that would require the town to borrow more than $15 million. But the 2011 revision did not provide for inflation. The new change would build in an annual adjustment pinned to the Consumer Price Index.
Question 1, which includes all the changes not specifically outlined in questions 2 and 3, is the most complex. It includes 41 changes ranging from specifying that the word “days” when written in the charter refers to calendar days, not business days to formalizing the line of succession if a first selectman resigns, moves out of town or dies in office.
Other changes in Question 1 include reestablishing a Youth Commission, which was eliminated in 2011, and requiring a two-thirds majority of the town council to approve changes to the number of voting districts.
“The idea was we wanted to make it harder to change the number of districts,” Donahue said.
Earlier this year, the council voted to divide its 21 members into seven districts, from the previous four. That vote carried on a simple majority. If approved, future district changes would require a two-thirds vote. Given the minority representation that limits one party to 14 seats on the 21-member council, this would virtually ensure that district changes would be bipartisan, Donahue said.
The list of changes, the committee’s meeting minutes and written report to the council are available on the Trumbull town website. The questions will be on the November ballot, and were included in the estimated 5,000 absentee ballots that have already been sent out.