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In voting on Groton charter revisions, residents cite multitude of reasons

November 17, 2018

Groton — On Election Day earlier this month, 12,161 people voted on the third ballot question — more than the number that voted on either of the first two questions, or on the school bond referendum two years ago, even though presidential elections garner higher turnout.

Voters in all seven districts struck down the third question, which would have made several substantive changes to the town charter, with 56 percent of respondents townwide saying no.

So, on paper, nothing is changing. But on both sides of the issue, some feel that the debate leading up to the election — the many letters to the editor, the many info sessions at the town library, the many Facebook posts — will impact the conversation on town government going forward.

The ballot question proposed changes that included implementing an annual budget referendum, eliminating the Representative Town Meeting, adding an advisory Board of Finance and extending Town Council terms from two to four years.

There did not appear to be one reason that was most popular for why people voted no, or why they voted yes.

Weighing in after voting

Leaving the polls, some voters expressed that they don’t see the need for change. Retired Electric Boat employee Marilyn DeWolf said she likes things the way they are, while Pete Jones, 37, had the attitude of, “If it ain’t broke...”

Leaving the City Municipal Building, Angel Ramos expressed a desire to “keep it simple” and a concern for ending up with a blockade on the budget, if there were an annual budget vote.

“A referendum on the budget every year? Yeah, we don’t need to do that,” he said. “That is excessive.”

Sue Blaisdell felt that eliminating the RTM wouldn’t be in the best interest of the City of Groton, though some on the “vote yes” side specifically wanted to get rid of the 41-member body.

“I don’t like the idea of a handful of representatives making up their mind for us,” Cheryl Christopher said, while Susan Larson said she didn’t feel she was being represented in the budget decisions.

“I think it may prompt some more regionalization in the town,” Larson said. She added, “I think the RTM, from what I see, pretty much rubber-stamps everything the town and schools want.”

Kathleen Krawiec felt the changes wouldn’t fix everything, in terms of property taxes going up, but she liked the idea of having a separate finance board.

Reflecting on the outcome

In a recent conversation with The Day, RTM member and revision opponent Michael Whitehouse argued that people with financial expertise won’t work for free on a body with no real authority.

He felt the revisions had too many “flaws and loopholes,” and thinks that resonated with voters.

“I think the upside of this, the upside of this whole thing, is now a lot more people are aware of the charter,” he said.

Noting that Town Council members are “up to their eyeballs” with work, he would love to see RTM committees render advisory opinions on earlier drafts of ordinances.

Town Council Mayor Patrice Granatosky said in her conversations, people were shocked by the idea, “You’re going to get rid of the RTM, which is the check on the council, and now you’re going to extend the terms of the council?”

She also felt that a lot of people were turned off by the fact that the proposed changes did not include a minimum voter turnout for an annual budget referendum.

Granatosky believes that a question solely asking to implement a budget referendum still wouldn’t have passed, because of how the language was written. Among those who supported the changes, Bob Frink agrees with that guess while Jay Dempsey disagrees.

Frink said it “isn’t trivial” that more than 5,300 citizens voted for some sort of change.

“It would’ve been a big leap forward, but I think it was just too much at once,” Frink said. But he also noted, “Sometime in the future, some of these people that voted no could have buyer’s remorse, that we missed a chance to be more fiscally responsible.”

Along with taxes, Frink indicated that his support for the changes also came from his beliefs in transparency and that Groton is “drowning in government.”

Dempsey thinks that people struggled the most with the idea of losing the RTM and with four-year Town Council terms, adding that “people are scared of change.”

“I think the important thing is now the RTM has to really show their value,” he said. “Show us how valuable you are, show us how efficient you can make Groton government, so we can have the best education, we can get our kids out of the Alliance District.”

e.moser@theday.com

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