The town of Orange has reached the end of a year-long process of reviewing the town’s charter and making recommendations to update the document. At its regular meeting of the board of selectmen February 8, the board held a public hearing on the charter revision and will decide at its March meeting whether to send the revision to a general election or a special election.
If approved, the biggest change to the charter would mean the town will hold a municipal election every four years as opposed to every two years as the first selectman, registrars of voters, tax collector, town clerk, constables and all boards would shift from a two-year term to a four-year term.
Fred Kendrick, a registrar of voters for the town said, “We would like to propose that the town of Orange charter be amended to have the registrar of voters’ terms extended from two years to four years. In 2015, the state of Connecticut enacted legislation that we had to be certified, costing $3,200. If the term were extended to four years, it would save $3,200 for the next period. When the town is faced with a substantial cut from the state of Connecticut, we think it makes sense to change this from two years to four years.”
Town Attorney and head of the charter revision commission Vincent Marino “The points raised by the registrar are consistent with the points that were raised with respect to your tax collector and your town clerk. The laws with respect to some of the certifications for these positions have changed dramatically since these positions were first created and since the charter was first enacted.”
Under the new certification requirements, the individuals may never actually become certified before their two-year term is up because of the time that it takes.
Selectman Mitch Goldblatt supported an all-inclusive change to the term limits, saying, “If everything passes and we adopt the registrar of voters also to four years, the constables are the only positions that are two years. If we were to take a step forward, we could address all of the issues such as low voter turnout when there is a non-first selectman and selectmen race. That would be to phase out the staggered terms of the other boards and commissions. In 2017, people would be elected for four years. In 2019, we’d have a two-year interim election so that in 2021, all terms would be four-year terms. Let’s get everybody on a four-year term, forget the staggering. It would be very unusual to have an entire board turn over, since most people like to run for more than one term.”
First Selectman James Zeoli agreed: “Because all of us in this room know that turnouts at the budget referendums have been very light at best, we’re going to try, since this is a very important issue, to get some more community involvement with it.”
According to Marino, if the charter changes were put before the general election in November, the majority wins, regardless of turnout. If it were to go to a special election with the budget, the vote would require a 15% turnout, which would mean roughly 1,500 voters would have to turn out to vote.
“It’s concerning in my view that there doesn’t seem to be much concern or conflict about the proposed changes. When people seem happy, they don’t come out,” Marino said. The entire charter would be required to be published in the local newspaper prior to the referendum.
At its January monthly meeting, Judy Williams thanked the committee for putting together such a well-documented read.
The commission was established in February 2016 and has worked collectively on the revision. John Carangelo said, “This charter hasn’t been revised in quite a long time and it was a breath of fresh air to sit with these individuals, and brainstorm what we felt was in the best interest of the town.”
The Board of Selectmen at its February meeting agreed to remove a recommendation that suggested that the town consider creating a position of the director of human resources.
“I’m concerned with this for a couple of reasons. One, it is one of the few things that the First Selectman has to oversee. Two, it’s a $100,000 position and you have the potential for putting a big bump in the budget for a position when we’re seeing other moneys cut. I just don’t think that we need it at this point,” said First Selectman James Zeoli. The commission agreed to remove the suggestion from the revision.