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Council Sets Charter Revision Question, Plans Explanatory Text

Legislative Council approved the Charter Revision ballot question and proposed an explanatory text for voters at the polls in November.

The Newtown Legislative Council approved the during their regular meeting Wednesday night. Along with a few changes to the wording of the ballot question, the Council also moved to create a simple, informative explanatory text that will be placed in each polling booth at all polling locations on November 6.

The proposed changes were put to referendum in March but .

The wording for the ballot question [see below] must be submitted to the Secretary of State no later than Friday for approval, according to Town Attorney David Grogins, however the explanatory text does not have to finalized until the absentee ballots are sent out by the Town Clerk, no later than September 22.

The Council also considered adding bullet headings to each of the four revisions being proposed in the single question, in order to clarify it for the voters, however Grogins warned against veering too far off script, as the Secretary of State has to approve the exact language and form before it can appear on the ballot. If the question is not approved as written by September 7, it cannot appear on the November ballot.

As a means of making the question easier to understand, the Council agreed that the explanatory text would be useful.

When asked, Grogins stated that the text could be posted in each polling station, as it is “not one of those political things that can’t be at the polling location,” such as campaign material, which must be kept at least 75 feet from the entrance and exits. “It should be there and should be visible.”

A draft text was proposed, however Council member Paul Lundquist agreed to take the wording and attempt to produce an aesthetically eye-catching, organized display that will break it down for voters in the booth. Lundquist plans to present the template to the Legislative Council at their September 19 meeting.

The base text reads as follows:

Approval of this question will modify Section 6-14a, b & c of the Charter to provide that the Annual Budget will be voted on in two parts; one for the Town budget, and one for the Board of Education budget. In the event one question fails and one is adopted, the question which passes will be considered adopted. Any failed question or questions will be resubmitted to the voters of the Town by means of successive referenda until passed by a majority of those voting. The present Charter language, which requires that the failed budget be submitted to a Town Meeting after two failed referendums, is eliminated.

Approval of this question will also provide for two advisory non-binding questions to be placed on the ballot as follows:

“Do you deem the proposed sum of $___ to be appropriated for the Board of Selectmen as too low?”

“Do you deem the proposed sum of $___ to be appropriated for the Board of Education as too low?”

Charter Ballot Question

Shall Section 6-14a and 6-14b of the Charter be amended to change the number of questions for the Annual Budget Referendum and subsequent referenda in the event of failure(s) from one question to two questions as follows:

Shall the sum of $___ be appropriated as the budget for the Board of Selectmen for the fiscal year?

Shall the sum of $___ be appropriated as the budget for the Board of Education for the fiscal year?

and, Shall Section 6-14a of the Charter be further amended to provide that if one question is passed and one question fails, the question which passes shall be considered adopted?

and, Shall Section 6-14c of the Charter be amended to provide for successive referendums for failed question(s) until both are adopted?

and, Shall Section 7-100b be amended to remove the requirement for a town meeting in the budget process?

and shall Section 6-14c of the Charter be amended to add the following advisory questions subject to the provisions of Section 6-13(b)(2):

“Do you deem the proposed sum of $___ to be appropriated for the Board of Selectmen as too low?”

            Yes ____

             No ____

“Do you deem the proposed sum of $___ to be appropriated for the Board of Education as too low?”

            Yes ____

             No ____

Michelle Ku September 09, 2012 at 10:58 PM
As a member of the charter revision commission, I would like to thank the two gentlemen who came to each and every one of our meetings, who voiced their opinions and who dedicated many of their free hours to being a part of the process. If I knew they wouldn’t mind, I would thank them by name, because their efforts are commendable as well.
Michelle Ku September 09, 2012 at 10:59 PM
There really isn’t a perfect answer. If there was, all towns would be using it. I am certain every charter revision commissioner and every person in Newtown could each come up with a different plan, because we each have different points of view and different ways of weighing the costs and benefits of the various solutions. It is not a simple problem, and the solution is not an either/or choice. In fact, if you take the three main issues – bifurcation, binding, and advisory questions – and assume two choices for each, there are 8 possible combinations. And given there are almost an infinite number of ways to word the advisory questions, the possibilities are endless. So, of course, everyone can say the commissions proposal isn’t the solution that they would suggest. The process that led to the commission’s recommendation was a fair, politically balanced, well-researched effort. The commissioners did not agree on the issues, but I think that we came to a consensus, because on the whole, the recommendation will help provide clarity in a process that has been in want of detail. I think everyone must ask themselves, not whether this is the solution you would have put forth, but whether it will make our town a better place.
Dirk Pitt September 10, 2012 at 04:14 AM
Hi John, At about 36:10 into the LC meeting, as you were discussing the pros and cons of binding vs non-binding, you made the comment: “The critical thing you have to think about when you have a voter in the booth is, we want to know about intent, but we want to get a budget passed.” So voter intent is clearly a secondary consideration to getting the budget passed. How can you make this assumption? This process should be entirely about accurately understanding voter’s intent..it's the whole reason we're splitting the budget in the first place. If voter intent was the primary factor, as it should have been, then how can you support a binding vote?
Paul Alexander September 10, 2012 at 01:05 PM
I am not questioning the dedication or civic-mindedness of any of the Charter Revision Committee members. What I am criticizing is the blatantly biased outcome of their work. And it IS biased. You have to be intellectually challenged to deny the bias in the advisory questions. I have addressed the blatant bias of the Advisory Questions in previous posts. And ballot bias IS the issue. Ballots are the last place where any bias should show up. It is the duty of anyone with any input to a ballot to ensure there is not even the PERCEPTION of bias on the ballot, much less ACTUAL bias as there is in these Advisory Questions. Which leads the inquisitive mind to wonder…who are the ballot stakeholders that BENEFIT from the ballot bias created by the Charter Revision Committee? Well, that doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out. Those who desperately want to avoid a replay of referendum-palooza would benefit from this biased ballot. And those who want to see the budget rise again at inflation + rates would benefit from this biased ballot. Hmmmm. The bottom line, in my view, is that the results of the Charter Revision Committee indicate sloppy staff work at best or intentional ballot biasing at worse. If the Secretary of State approves the language then the voters should kill it at the ballot box and demand a re-write that removes any bias.
Michelle Ku September 10, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Paul, I am going to ignore your ad hominem attacks and will try to understand your position. Your entire argument hinges on the assumption that "people are psychologically wired to answer "Yes" more so than "No" when asked a question on a ballot." What is the evidence for this?

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