The Bethel Board of Selectmen has held a special meeting to take up proposed Charter revisions. One of the biggest change would be adding a rule requiring the town to obtain completed construction plans before voters approve a project costing more than $1 million. This proposal stemmed from cost overruns on the police station, the library and other projects.
One proposal is about extending the term for the board from 2 years to 4 years. Selectman Paul Szatkowski says other elected boards have 4-year terms so this would make town government more consistent. Selectman Rich Straiton agreed.
Another change being considered is about eligibility for office. Bethel town employees can't serve on several boards according to current regulations. First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker recommended that the Board of Assessment Appeals be included in the prohibition. He also wants Board of Finance members not to serve on other boards or commissions. He says there haven't been ethics issue in the past, but he noted one example of why he thinks the revision is needed. Knickerbocker noted that a Finance Board member simultaneously serve on Parks & Rec, recusing himself from several votes meaning the Commission didn't have full membership considering budget items. Knickerbocker says the Board of Finance carries a lot of power, and members should only served on that board. The exception to this rule would be the Public Utilities Commission, which the charter states includes the selectmen and two other members.
One revision being discussed would get rid of the non-binding advisory questions on budget referendum. Knickerbocker says they take up valuable lines on the ballot, but don't provide valuable information. He says in the last 19 years, the question has always been answered "too high" even when the budget passed by a wide margin. Knickerbocker says the public hearing and town meeting process is a more accurate feedback process.
Another budget-related revision is being considered. The Charter currently says that if either the municipal or the school budget passes, it can't be changed. Knickerbocker says no other area town does it that way. He wants to give the Board of Finance the ability to balance both sides of the budget until both pass. He added that this would keep more voters engaged in the process. Szatkowski wants more information shared at the Town Meeting portion of the process to bring more transparency to specific parts of the budget.
The Board of Selectmen is recommending that they get the authority to remove an appointed member from a Board of Commission if that person doesn't show up for an amount of time, to be recommended by the Charter Revision Commission. Knickerbocker gave the example of people moving out of town without resigning, and officials not certain they have the ability to remove their names from the board.
The Charter Revision Commission is being asked to increase the Public Utilities Commission by four members, two more from each party, bringing membership up to 7. The Board of Ed and the Library Board are the only two groups not required to hold their meetings in the Municipal Center. With the new police station opening up, a recommendation is being sought that the restriction be lifted so the Police Commission can meet in their new building. The Selectmen recommend that meetings simply be held in a town-owned facility accessible to members of the public.
The Charter Revision Commission will hold public hearings and seek feedback from stakeholders on potential changes before proposing its own recommendations to the selectmen. The process could take six months to two years.