The town spent about $46,000 last fiscal year advertising public notices in local print newspapers—a practice that officials call expensive for taxpayers and which may change as a soon-to-be-appointed commission reviews New Canaan’s major governing document.
The Town Council has sketched a timeline whereby a Charter Revision Commission will be appointed, with an eye on recommending updates to the Town Charter that would appear—following multiple public hearings and reports, as required by state law—on the ballot for the November 2016 general elections.
Among changes to consider—as recommend by a committee of the Town Council five years ago, following interviews with the heads of town departments and municipal boards and commissions—is this (see pages 185-188 of this council meeting’s public packet): “Some commissions are bound by [state] statutes which require the entire content to be published. Are there ways to notice meetings in a more cost-effective way (e.g. website, referral to website in public notice)?”
Asked about the public noticing issue in particular, Town Councilman Penny Young—who had served on the 2010 committee—said “the idea was posed for several reasons.”
“One is the cost involved in taking an ad out, in printing it in the newspaper. And secondly, the development of other media modes that had not existed 10 years ago as they do now. The town didn’t have a sophisticated website, and social media development wasn’t what it is now.”
As it stands, a whole host of municipal matters require publication in the newspaper, as per the Town Code. They range from when a structure is to be demolished, when the Board of Selectmen adopt new fees or when any property or equipment of the town or Board of Ed is to be sold, to notices of hearings and water emergencies.
Various departments of the town also advertise requests for proposals on jobs that are to go out to bid. According to the town Finance Director Dawn Norton, each department has its own advertising budget. In fiscal year 2015, New Canaan spent a total of $45,630 on advertising on public notices of any kind, from legal notices to dog adoptions. Nearly all of the funds go to a local weekly legacy/print newspaper, though deadlines sometimes determine that the town turns to a daily newspaper that bears the name of a neighboring city, she said.
Under a timeline proposed within the Town Council, the Charter Review Commission would form next month, with a first report due in May and public hearings throughout the process. Other topics for consideration include whether to increase the size of the Board of Selectmen from three to give, whether finance board members should be elected or appointed and “public safety officer” should be hired to coordinate services among police, fire and EMS.
Young underscored that all topics raised as possibilities for Charter review “need to be fully discussed and all possibilities entertained.”
“You don’t go into Charter revision with something in mind—these are all ideas put on the table by a whole host of sources,” she said. “We are merely going to be pass along [to the Charter Review Commission] the research that has been done to date, the ideas that have come from interviews in the past five or six years, and the commission then is free to interview anybody and everybody and develop their own list of things and focus on those issues that they think are most important for the effective governance of our town.”
One matter not included on the committee’s 2010 list of topics for consideration that has emerged at public meetings is the question of whether police should be used to direct traffic during roadside tree work.