Speakers oppose, question charter changes

Limiting scope and taking more time was the theme of several comments given Tuesday night to Trumbull’s Charter Revision Commission.

“This is not an easy task you’ve been given; it’s a virtually impossible task in a truncated period of time,” Tom Tesoro said to the commission Tuesday night.

About 10 speakers addressed the Charter Revision Commission to comment on a draft report of charter changes that will be sent to the Town Council. The majority of speakers were not in favor of many of the proposals and asked the commission to reconsider certain areas. The commission listened to much of the feedback, altering some of its proposals later in the evening.

“The public seems to be losing a lot in this commission revision,” Tony Daquila said of the proposals.

Pension reform was a main focus of the commission, but other proposed changes included new term limits for the first selectman, town treasurer and town clerk, as well as changes to the charter’s section on the Ethics Commission, among others.

While Trumbull revised its charter two years ago, First Selectman Timothy Herbst in March asked the Town Council vote to impanel a new commission to look at adding language to the charter that would require Trumbull to fund its police and town pension funds at the annual required contribution (ARC). Herbst said the commission’s focus should be narrow and the council could give a strict deadline.

Many speakers Tuesday felt that scope had widened and pension language could hurt more than help.

Roy Fuchs proposed that the commission add language to require that the town fund a minimum of 75% of the ARC.

“We have some breathing room and don’t have to do what might be a Draconian measure to fund the pension,” Fuchs said.

Cindy Katske said she hadn’t seen enough research on adding the pension language. Greenwich has been held up as the example of a municipality that has included this pension language.

“To me, much more research needs to be done before we do what Greenwich and only Greenwich has done,” Katske said.

Other changes

While pensions were the main reason to impanel a commission, several other tweaks and charter changes were part of the commission’s draft report. Proposals in the draft report included changing the first selectman’s term from two to four years, and to have four-year terms for town treasurer and town clerk. The draft report also restores Board of Education seats to four years— a proposal many speakers supported but said needed clarification. Changes to the vacancy policy for the first selectman’s office were also made, allowing the Town Council chair to serve as successor, in case of emergency/absence.

Other proposals included changing areas of the charter’s section on the Ethics Commission, including taking out a provision that allows the person accused of an ethics violation to confront the accuser. The charter conflicts with the Code of Ethics in that area, according to Ethics Commission Chair Thomas Lee. In the code, the commission can proceed without the presence of the complaintant. However, speakers felt the accused should be able to confront the complaintant.

“The provision gives us the right to confront an accuser and that’s a fundamental American right,” Tesoro said to the commission. “If the accuser refuses to participate, those allegations are still out there. That to me is completely un-American.”

A proposed change in the Ethics section of the Charter would be listing that town-hired consultants and Board of Education employees, officials are also subject to the Ethics Code, which has been unclear in the past, Lee said.

The Charter Revision Commission considered changing business days to calendar days in certain sections of the charter. After receiving input from the public, particularly that the change would limit the public’s amount of time to petition for a special election following a resignation, it voted against the recommendation.

The commission also heeded the public response to the pension language, deciding to add an “opt-out” provision that would allow the town to not fund the full ARC, in case of emergencies. In the commission’s proposal, the town must fund the ARC each year, but a unanimous vote of the Board of Finance and an 18-3 vote of the Town Council would allow for an opt-out, and let the town fund an amount set by the Board of Finance and approved by the council.

“This gives us flexibility in emergency situations,” Commission Chair Suzanne Burr Monaco said.

As the commission began discussion, member Ken Martin said pension reform was the focus of the commission and he supported fully-funding the pension. He had concerns about some of the other proposed changes brought up in public comment.

“As we’ve heard tonight, there is a ripple effect throughout the document with some of these proposals,” Martin said.

Proposals from the commission will now be sent to the Town Council