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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 ____

Veritas vos liberabit September 06, 2012 at 10:19 PM
I think you're ready for another career makeover - Newtown Board of Finance...... Still can't see the Bull?
Paul Alexander September 06, 2012 at 10:33 PM
...but then the answers to SIMPLE AND DIRECT ballot questions are NOT what the First Selectman or the Board of Selectmen, or the Board of Education, or the Superintendent, or the Teachers Union really want to know much less have tabulated in a formal vote. The answers to THOSE questions keep the politicians awake at night. It's much more politically convenient for the politicians to hide behind a committee of volunteers, but not before influencing them in a manner that generates a twisted verbiage designed to give them the ballot response they want. Simple and direct questions give the TAXPAYERS more power. What you came up with gives the TAX SPENDERS more power.
Craig Lehecka September 06, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Shoot, they used the jedi mind trick on us. I hate when that happens.
Paul Alexander September 06, 2012 at 10:56 PM
...and to prove my point...you don't hear Po Murray whining about the language in the advisory questions. She must LOVE the way this has been worded. And she is no friend of the Newtown taxpayer.
Mr D. September 06, 2012 at 11:33 PM
You missed one option: "the budget is just right"!
Alex Tytler September 06, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Good observation and true, HOWEVER we just proved that our voters are very good at voting no. As long as they remember NO means NO, we are in good shape.
Alex Tytler September 07, 2012 at 12:04 AM
59 days dumb dumb, then 4 years of agony for you and your kind.
Myth Romney September 07, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Eric, then it's back to yachting in Darien and polo ponies in Greenwich? Yippy do, cheerio!
G September 07, 2012 at 01:25 AM
Paul Alexander stated - "People are psychologically wired to answer "Yes" more so than "No when asked a question on a ballot. " Could you reference a source that would confirm this? Thanks.
Dirk Pitt September 07, 2012 at 02:18 AM
The approved by the Legislative Council will not solve a thing other than to divert attention from the real issue which is our leader’s ability to effective collaborate internally or communicate externally. The revision we’re going to vote on is focused on areas the Commission’s own research showed didn’t work while completely ignoring the items their research showed were critical to success. This entire exercise is about reducing noise from voters and not about implementing any meaningful change. If our charter is amended as recommended by the LC it will only mean voters lose an important right they currently have. Voters will lose the right to vote on an entire budget package. The Committee chair came right out and said their primary object was to get a budget passed at all cost even recognizing that voter intent was not the primary consideration in their proposal. If anyone has any doubts I suggest they have a look at the video of the August 29th LC meeting and have a look at a review of the Commission's findings which can be found at the link below: http://www.inewtown.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=113&p=114#p114
Dirk Pitt September 07, 2012 at 02:21 AM
The issue isn’t about adding questions they come right out and say don’t work. It doesn’t decrease the number of ‘voting events’ and don’t improve voter turnout. The fact is by making them optional the proposal almost ensures they won’t work. We even had questions in the past. The committee interviewed people familiar with them and they said it was a mixed bag. I have no objection with the questions because they do no harm to voters rights. The issue for voters is making the vote binding. By doing this it is likely that people’s votes will be taken out of the context in which it was cast. We we cast that vote we have no idea what adjustments the LC is planning should one side of the budget pass or fail. How can we be held to our vote if this information isn’t available to us when we cast our vote.
Dirk Pitt September 07, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Consider the following scenario with facts similar to what we went thru few months ago: 1) We have the initial vote. The Town Budget passes (by 12 votes) and the education budget fails (by 100 votes). At this point peoples knowledge of the budget is very limited (even our elected officials if you recall what happened this past budget cycle). 2) After the initial vote the LC cuts the education budget by $1M 3) During the lead up to the next vote the following information comes to light: - We are putting $400K into the General Fund as savings to improve our credit score. - That the town can save $75K if they buy their road salt from the state. - That an estimate that was used for a portion of education expenses has turned out to be understated and will cost more than expected. - The cuts being made to the education budget make it obvious there is no low hanging fruit to be had and that to make the cuts being proposed will mean cutting critical services. What is the greater miscarriage of justice…Holding the voter to their original voter (made before all the other information came to light) or asking them at the next vote if they still feel the same way. For me the choice is clear.
Dirk Pitt September 07, 2012 at 02:23 AM
If you have any doubts check out the following decision matrix that compares both options: http://www.inewtown.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=116 Don’t take my word for it…see for yourself. I just encourage you to look at it now. The LC also raised the question of limiting the number of referendums. That after three referendums something else happens. We need to be very careful here that while everyone is saying don’t worry, pass it now and we’ll fix it next time that the option next time will only take it further and limit the number of referendums. This isn’t explained and the committee didn’t consider it to be within the scope of this revision. If we’re going to take a risk let’s not give up that right now. We should err on the side of caution and not jump in with a half-baked proposal. Voters deserve better than that. In my opinion, the problem we have isn’t with the process we use to vote; it’s with getting public buy in on the budget. Yet the solution they propose completely ignore this and focuses on the voting process with changes that won’t work and only infringes on voters rights. The non-binding option is the right option because: 1) It leaves control in the hands of the voters. 2) It meets all objectives for providing information to the LC to adjust the budget. 3) It leaves the LC with the most options available to them to make appropriate adjustments. As I said, don’t believe me…see for yourself.
taxpayer September 07, 2012 at 04:49 AM
Ha- simple and direct. In a perfect world where common sense rules perhaps, but here in Newtown.....hmmmm.
Teacher September 07, 2012 at 04:21 PM
If there was one thing we all seemed to agree on during the contentious budget season, it was that we needed more answers and a bifurcated budget. I saw this over and over and over. Why, now, are all of you (the SAME PEOPLE!) opposed to it? I cannot understand this! Paul, maybe you have good points about the wording, but there was a public forum for comment and discussion. This is democracy. You have to participate for it to work! I think it's fantastic.
Paul Alexander September 07, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Teacher, A good outcome is the combination of a good idea and good execution of that idea. A bifurcated budget is a good idea. The advisory questions as submitted is POOR execution of that idea. "Poor" if you are a taxpayer that is. The execution is excellent if you one of the many stakeholders who want to see budgets increase every year. I'd like both my kids to be financially independent. I don’t want to see them accomplish that goal as drug dealers. Can you see the difference now between supporting an idea and criticizing the execution of that idea??
Paul Alexander September 07, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Wow! This article is already off the front page of The Patch. How is it that all the nonsense articles stay up for days???
Dirk Pitt September 07, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Hi Teacher, As for why people that supported splitting the budget and adding questions are now against it…While I can only speak for myself, I always thought they would just split the budgets (which has to be done by Ct law if you include questions) and add the questions…It never dawned on me that they would actually make the questions binding. It’s so blatantly wrong I never thought they would actually do it. My fault…after what happened with busing, I should have known better. Shame on me for that! And they wonder why there is a trust issue!
Paul Alexander September 07, 2012 at 07:49 PM
First Slectman Pat LLodra and her crew took a very simple and direct voter mandate and twisted it to achieve THEIR political goals. She has GOT TO GO. Newtown needs a real executive who is focused on the bottom line and doesn't play these BS games.
Paul Alexander September 07, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Craig, I appreciate your efforts, but you guys got sandbagged.
Dirk Pitt September 07, 2012 at 08:00 PM
See the comments at the 8/29 LC meeting. Here is the link: http://www.newtown-ct.gov/public_documents/NewtownCT_WebDocs/videoarchivent. Pat Llorda’s comments at about 1:32:20… “From the perspective of the front office, I would like to remind you those of us that work in the office collaborate very, very well. That falls apart once that enters the government. When we (Pat L, Ron B. and Bob T.) get together we collaborate very effectively as long as we’re in our own space. It’s when we get influenced or buffeted by others outside (problems arise), that’s a problem that we all have to recognize. The problem is not the people that are in the offices. The problem is elsewhere.” Ms. Llodra goes on to say there are “equally as many people working to dismantle” collaboration. “Everyone has to pitch in and be behind us.” They need to ‘Push back equally hard.’ First of all, the fact that $1M was cut from education after the first referendum this year confirms that this is simply not true and there is very poor collaboration between the boards (the public isn’t even involved at that point). Also, as the commission pointed out, towns that have trouble, consistently have trouble and towns that get it right usually always get it right. Based on everything presented it looks like we’re in the former group. We shouldn’t expect it’s going to change simply changing the way we vote.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com September 07, 2012 at 09:00 PM
It's all very interesting. Last week we learned another 170000 is going into the rainy day fund and 45000was moved fron the contingency fund for raiser for non union employees. I can't remember that being discussed during the budget deliberation, maybe it was.
Craig Lehecka September 07, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Hey Paul, I do not think I got sand bagged bit it is cool if you do. Only 2 people showed up at our meetings. If everyone thinks it is so important I would think more participation. I commute to nyc for work over 4 hours each day, have three kids under 8 and my wife works full time as well. The number of people who actually vote in budget referenda is pretty low as well. So no matter how you feel the truth is most just don't care. Nothing can be done about that. A lot of points made are valid but there are many valid counter points. Ps the advisory questions are not binding. Only the budget vote section is binding. Have a good one.
John Godin September 09, 2012 at 12:05 AM
I too served on the Commission with Craig and dedicated well over 30 hours of my personal time as Commission Chair between mid-July and late August. Along with seven other hard working Newtown residents we worked on your behalf to craft a recommendation that we hoped would be an improvement over what we have today. I want to thank everyone on the Commission for their hard work, passion for their community, and commitment to honest debate and compromise. George, Nick, Craig, Michelle, Tony, Bob, Jim and Allan you are all Rock Stars in my book. I'd serve with all of you again in the future.
Deborra Zukowski September 09, 2012 at 03:38 AM
I also would like to take the time and space to commend the members of the committee. Thank you for stepping up, especially during the very busy summer months. I believe that it is very likely a step in the right direction. With the advisory question, no now truly means no unless one explicitly says too low. With this, those who felt disenfranchised will be able to vote their conscience, not their fear.
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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