The volunteer panel charged with studying and recommending changes to New Canaan’s major governing document is calling for residents to make their voices heard at a public hearing to be held Wednesday night.
New Canaan’s Charter “is our Constitution,” according to Dave Hunt, chairman of the Charter Revision Commission, which has been meeting regularly since last fall.
“It is serves that function, so it sets the stage for the standards for all of government,” he said. “So our task is to review that and try to have the best possible government for the town of New Canaan, and to make changes where we see an opportunity to make things better, understanding that you have to think about consequences that may be in the opposite direction.”
The public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Town Meeting Room.
A draft copy of the commission’s report to the Town Council can be found here on the town website and as a PDF at the end of this article. Its major recommendations include:
- Allowing constituents to vote for up to six candidates for Town Council rather than four;
- Preserving the first selectman’s role on the Board of Finance as a non-voting, ex officio member who only casts tie-breaking votes, while removing the role as chairman of the group, to be elected by its members annually (a change the current first selectman opposes);
- Adding a handful of municipal bodies now covered by ordinance to the Town Charter—such as the Audit Committee, Inland Wetlands Commission and Health & Human Services Commission; and
- Creating an Ethics Board.
Recommendations also include updating language and processes in the Charter where they’re outdated. For example, where ‘published’ long had meant appearing in a print newspaper, the Charter would adopt a text change whereby the document could—where allowed by state law—indicate “publication by any legal means, or in any legal manner, that provides for widespread accessibility, including, but not limited to, publication on the Town website.” (New Canaan spends in excess of $45,000 per year, officials have said, printing public notices in physical newspapers.)
The change is “really a step into the 21st Century,” Hunt said.
The single most-discussed recommended change, Hunt said, is the proposal to recommend removing the first selectman as chairman of the Board of Finance.
“I ought to preface that with the observation that it has absolutely nothing to do with [First Selectman] Rob Mallozzi,” he said. “We are doing it out of a belief that there is a better form of governance, a better check-and-balance.”
The commission also had a long discussion about whether the town clerk should remain an elected position or switch to an appointed one, and decided not to recommend a change, in the end.
According to Hunt, the commission may change some of its recommendations to the Town Council, depending on what it hears at this weeks’ public hearing, and will then file its report with the Town Clerk. From there it will be delivered to the Town Council, and Hunt said he expects to present the report at the legislative body’s April 20 meeting. The council will review and discuss the report, hold at least one public hearing and, if it recommends further changes, will bring in the commission to talk about it. The upshot of the entire process is that suggested updates to the Charter will go before residents in November’s general elections.