Council approves Charter questions

Voters in November will be asked two questions regarding proposed Town Charter changes, including language that requires the town to fund its pensions each year at the annual required contribution.

The Town Council, after much deliberation Monday night, approved the questions and eliminated other proposed changes some members thought went well beyond what was supposed to be a narrow focus of the Charter Revision Commission.

First Selectman Timothy Herbst urged the council to approve impaneling a commission in March for the purpose of exploring pension language for both the town and police retirement plans.

The language approved Monday night requires the town to fund both pensions at the required contribution amount set by the actuaries. If there is an emergency, the Board of Finance can vote unanimously not to fully fund the pension, and then the Town Council must also reach a vote where no less than 18 members of 21 approve the finance board’s recommendation.

“I’m very happy the council approved that provision,” Herbst said Tuesday. “I firmly maintain and believe this charter revision will secure Trumbull a triple A credit rating that will protect Trumbull taxpayers in the future.”

The second question that will be presented to voters relates to some housekeeping issues in the charter as well as changes to the “Ethics Commission” section. Certain language in the charter was inconsistent with the Code of Ethics and Town Council members agreed Monday that a revision of the Code of Ethics is overdue. Part of language deleted in the changes reads that the individual accused of an ethics complaint “shall be entitled to confront his/her accuser.”

Before the proposed changes passed the council by a 12-4 vote, District 3 Democrat Vicki Tesoro proposed removing the pension language and adding back language in the ethics section.

“Why do we need mandatory charter language to do this?” Tesoro said. “One day this may have dire consequences to our town.”

Tesoro wasn’t the only one who had doubts about the language.

“I’ve been on the fence about this,” District 4 Republican Ann Marie Evangelista said. “Tim has done the right thing — why mandate behavior.”

District 2 Republican Tony Scinto also worried it didn’t provide the town enough flexibility.

But still more on the council supported the language.

“We’re hearing more and more about towns and cities in major trouble because they didn’t pay their bills,” District 4 Republican Joseph Pifko said.

Tesoro proposed removing the proposal that would delete Ethics Commission language allowing the accused to confront the accuser. Her motion failed.

“This is not a court of law,” District 3 Republican Michael London said of ethics proceedings. “There must be a way to protect the whistleblower.”

No four-year terms

The Town Council voted to eliminate some of the recommendations from the charter commission. Voters will not be asked to increase terms for the Board of Education, first selectman, town treasurer and town clerk. It also eliminated changes to the succession rules for the first selectman’s office that would have made the Town Council chair the successor, rather than town treasurer.

“When we voted to impanel the commission we were told it would be a very targeted focus,” District 2 Republican Cindy Penkoff said. “It was to solve a problem or make something better. Is there a problem with the succession we voted on three years ago?”

Evangelista agreed she did not feel comfortable asking voters about succession issues when it was just done three years ago. She felt it took power away from the voters, since the town treasurer is a townwide position, while council chair is voted in by one district and then voted as chair by fellow council members.

A few on the council argued for four-year terms for the first selectman, but the question did not pass.

“I believe a four-year term is an important time period for the first selectman to grasp the issues of a community,” District 2 Republican Kenneth Martin Sr. said. “Constituents are tired of the constant campaigning.”

Other felts four years was too long, and didn’t give the voters as much of a say if they weren’t happy with leadership.