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BETHEL Four-year term for selectmen?

November 13, 2018

BETHEL — The public’s part in a year-and-a-half long process to consider major changes to town government begins Wednesday evening.

A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday on proposals to extend the selectmen’s terms to four years, adjust rules for approving money and other potential revisions to the charter.

The Board of Selectmen have asked the Charter Revision Committee to explore almost 15 proposals, which largely surround finances and elected and appointed positions. These ideas could eventually go before voters in a referendum.

The Charter Revision Committee has met twice to discuss the recommendations, but is required to hold a public hearing early in the process.

“Now, it’s just weighing the minds of the community on the proposals,” said Nick Hoffman, chairman of the committee. “From there, we’ll start to devise our individual opinion and eventually our collective opinion to decide the best way to move forward for Bethel.”

Residents will also be permitted to suggest their own ideas for the committee to examine.

Hoffman said one of the more controversial proposals calls for extending the selectmen’s term from two years to four years. He said the town has previously rejected the idea when it had also included a plan to add two more members to the Board of Selectmen.

Members of the boards of education, finance and other boards have four-year terms. First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker said two years is not enough time for the first selectman to learn the job and get tasks, like labor union contracts, done.

“The realities of municipal management are such that is just makes no sense to work for a year and then go into another election cycle,” he said. “It’s inefficient, its costly.”

Still, most other Connecticut towns have two-year terms for their first selectmen or mayors, Hoffman said. He added residents would have to wait longer to vote out a poor town leader.

“That is always a concern if we get a bad apple in the first selectman’s chair,” Hoffman said. “You’re literally doubling the time they can unwind the town. That anxiety is always there.”

The committee is also exploring permitting the Board of Finance to adjust both the town and school budgets if one side passes and the other fails. Under existing rules, the board is only permitted to change the budget that failed.

Brookfield operates under the system Bethel is considering, but New Milford voted last week to switch to the method Bethel uses now.

Also under consideration is requiring full construction plans for projects costing more than $1 million before going to referendum. This would ideally help the town avoid going over budget for projects.

Another proposal would only require the town to go to referendum for projects costing more than $2 million, rather than $1 million under the existing rule. The committee is also weighing whether to eliminate the advisory questions on budget referendums.

Other proposals deal with the eligibility for office for town employees, adding members to the Public Utilities Commission and removing the requirement that meetings be held in town hall.

The committee will meet with town leaders and seek input from the public throughout the process. Another public hearing will also be held before the committee passes its recommendations to the selectmen.

The selectmen would then vote on whether to send the proposals to a referendum.

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