Considerations for the Charter Revision Commission

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Editor’s Note: This letter was sent to members of the Charter Revision Commission and First Selectman Mack.

Re: Considerations for the Charter Revision Commission

Dear Chairman Mahoney and fellow CRC members,

My name is Charlie Watras; I reside at 32 Wendover Road in our lovely Town of Suffield, CT. While a relative newcomer to the community (I am now in my 3rd decade of residency), I have participated in our local government having served on the Board of Finance and two prior Charter Revision Commissions. The following comments are offered with sincerity and without judgement, criticism, or malice toward any person or town official serving currently or in the past.

For the past twenty years, I have been an advocate for changing our form of local governance to what is commonly referred to as the “Town Manager/Town Council” form of government. My personal preference is a structure that incorporates the following components:

a) A Certified Professional Town Administrator (hired employee) responsible for day-to-day government operations;

b) A multi-member policy and budget making Council/Board of Selectmen of sufficient size to provide critical diversity of opinion, perspective, and background;

c) The retention of the Town Meeting/Referendum process for direct public approval of major decisions such as fundamental changes to our self-governance structure and the acquisition/disposition of significant town assets; and,

(d) The inclusion of Advisory Boards to provide insight into the unique challenges, opportunities, oversight and advocacy recommendations for specific governmental functions.

By the conclusion of your deliberations, you will have heard or reviewed many perspectives both pro and con for such a change and I will not reiterate any of them here. But, as you have or will discover, there is no one single template that must be adopted in the creation of this form of governance structure.

You have indicated your plan to interview other communities that have made the decision to convert to the “Town Manager” governance model. If you have not already done so, I encourage you to investigate these four nearby communities; each is unique and has much experience to offer for your consideration:

a) The Town of Canton: a fairly recent convert to the Town Manager model that also greatly simplified their Town Charter in the process.

b) The Town of Glastonbury: a town that was of a similar size and nature to Suffield at the time of its conversion many years ago; this town is recognized for excellence on multiple levels and has been fortunate to have had the same capable town manager for years guiding the town’s growth successfully.

c) The Town of Granby: again, a town with many similar characteristics to Suffield that has benefited from having a skilled professional manager guiding its growth over decades and has the reputation among financial institutions, rating agencies, state authorities and peer groups for being an exceptionally well-run municipality. And,

d) The Town of Simsbury: a town that very recently converted to the Town Manager governance model; this was not without a great deal of discussion and difference of opinion but was successfully accomplished; and, it can offer the near-term perspective on some of the benefits or lack of them achieved to date.

Lastly, if you choose not to recommend altering our governance structure, I believe there is a significant omission in our existing charter that deserves your consideration and necessitates attention. As it currently stands, our charter does not contain a defined Plan of Succession in the event that the standing First Selectman does not complete his/her elected term of office. Such an event can occur for any one of a number of personal, professional, or other reasons. In fact, such an event has occurred at least twice over the last thirty years. During those thirty years, our government has become increasingly complex requiring talented leadership that is skilled in dealing with a multitude of issues; it is neither a part-time job nor one that should be relegated to a successor in need of a significant period of “on the job” training. Please rectify this deficiency with a meaningful prescriptive remedy.

Thank you for listening.

Respectfully submitted,
Charles P. Watras 

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