As Review of Town Charter Nears, Question of Police Role in Traffic Control Re-emerges


The town could pay contracted certified flagmen about half of what police earn in overseeing traffic control jobs—such as for roadside tree work—and an upcoming review of New Canaan’s governing document may provide an opportunity to bring about the change, officials say.

Under Article II, Section 54-41 of the Town Code, the police chief decides when traffic control is needed at such roadside jobs, and the Police Department is the go-to agency to staff them.

Asked at the July 21 Board of Selectmen meeting about how the policy plays out in practice, Tree Warden Bruce Pauley said: “The police, they make the rules—what roads have to have traffic control.”

“And it pretty much involves every single road—there are rare exceptions,” he said at the meeting, held in the Training Room of the New Canaan Police Department. “It adds a certain amount of price to this—if this is $29,000 you can expect to pay $5,000 in traffic control. It adds up and it comes out of the tree budget which I am not happy with but it is the way it is. It has to come from somewhere.”

Selectman Nick Williams followed up by saying: “The Charter, I would like to remind everybody, is going to be opened up for review by the Town Council.”

The back-and-forth emerged as the selectmen approved $29,190 for tree pruning and removal work on Briscoe, Laurel, White Oak Shade, Jelliff Mill Roads and others (see page six here).

The specific language of the Charter that Williams referred to states: “In the event traffic direction services are required, such services shall be obtained from the New Canaan Police Department, provided that, if the New Canaan Police Department is unable within a reasonable time to furnish the officer or officers that may be required, a qualified traffic flag person or persons may alternatively be employed until a police officer is available to be assigned.”

According to Pauley, contracted certified traffic controllers cost about $30 per hour, compared to about $65 per hour for police.

The selectmen in November had raised the prospect of moving away from the police for some traffic control jobs.

An imminent review of New Canaan’s Charter affords an opportunity to look again at this (and all other) rules and guidelines laid out in the Town Code.

The Town Council at its July 15 meeting outlined a timetable whereby proposed revisions to the Charter may be put before New Canaan voters on Election Day 2016 (a national election year, where higher turnout is expected).

Reviewed in 1935, 1974, 2001 and 2005, the charter is “probably the most important document” in town, Council Vice Chair Steve Karl said at the meeting.

Under a proposed timeline for the Charter review (see page 186 of the public packet for the council’s meeting, here), the Town Council would vote in September to create a Charter Review Commission. Within 30 days of its creation, members of the commission would be appointed. Possible topics for Charter revision as developed five years ago include (see pages 187 and 188 here): Whether all elected officials should be both electors and taxpayers of the town (now just the Board of Finance); whether the second and third selectmen should be paid; whether the Parking Commission should have the power to hear ticket appeals; and whether to expand the Police Commission to five members.

At the selectmen meeting, Williams asked whether other towns handle traffic control the same way that New Canaan does, and asked what would happen if the cost were put onto the contracted tree company. Pauley answered that the tree companies would pass along the cost (though it likely would be far less).

“If they [tree companies] had to estimate how much traffic control they were going to require, they would have to err on the high side,” Pauley said. “There are places where you don’t have to have the police for traffic control. There are highly qualified traffic flaggers avail at half the cost … You could have them here. If we required certified traffic controllers and weren’t governed by the Charter to use the police.”

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