Newtown assesses changes for civilian police review, majority of school boards, Finance Council

NEWTOWN — Amendments to the Newtown charter would establish a civilian police review board, clarify the maximum number of elected school board members allowed to serve from a majority political party and eliminate the finance board.

Newtown’s 12-member Legislative Council, which has ultimate authority over changes to the city’s charter that will come to a vote in November for voters to decide, will give its final recommendations to a review task force on Wednesday. of the charter.

The main change is the proposed dissolution of Newtown’s elected finance council to streamline the annual budget process and rid residents of bureaucracy.

“It’s a big deal – we have quite a bit of government overlap there,” said Jeff Capeci, speaker of the Republican-controlled Legislative Council. “The Board of Education and the Board of Selectmen have to attend all these budget meetings and tell their story basically three times. This will eliminate that bit of redundancy.

To those who argue that the city is best served by an independent elected body with financial oversight power, the Charter Review Task Force responds that the Legislative Council is the city’s final taxing authority and can , if desired, appoint a finance group during budget season to advise on spending, borrowing, and capital improvements.

Ultimately, it will be up to voters to decide in a referendum in November.

“If we propose to eliminate a whole arm of government and if people think that this function will not be handled properly, they will vote against it,” said Capeci. “So it’s up to us to demonstrate why we think we can do without it.”

The recommendation to eliminate the six-member finance council as one of Newtown’s four major elected governing bodies is one of a handful of major changes to the town’s constitution, known as the charter, which is updated every five years.

The Legislative Council plans to ask the Charter Review Task Force for adjustments to the wording of at least two recommendations to provide for a civilian review board under the Board of Police Commissioners and to address a gap in the maximum number of elected schools. authorized council members of the majority party.

The charter review task force would then send the draft recommendations back to the Legislative Council for adoption and submission to the state for approval, before putting them to the November ballot.

The Charter Review Task Force is a group of seven appointees — three Republicans, three Democrats and one unaffiliated member — who have recommended 16 changes to the city’s constitution, ranging from school board “compliance” to the definition of a city department, to the continued role of the Fairfield Hills Authority, to the process of filling vacancies on elected city councils.

“The number of members of a political party who can sit on the education council should not be more than four – I think that was the majority representation everyone wanted to be… but the statue we do reference in the ordinance indicates that the majority representation would be five,” Legislative Council member Michelle Embree Ku said during a meeting last week. “If we go by the statue we refer to in the ordinance, the single party maximum would be five out of a seven-member council.”

Some members of the Legislative Council, such as Ryan Knapp, have said they hope to see a higher maximum number of majority members allowed on the seven-member school board to encourage greater competition during election campaigns and to give voters a wider choice.

On the task force’s recommendation to add the “Civil Review Board” as a responsibility of the city’s police commission under the Connecticut Police Accountability Act of 2020, an attorney advising Newtown suggested that the board itself define the duties and powers of the civilian review board rather than relying on state law to do so.

“If you want the Civil Review Board to have real authority, you have to have statutory powers saying, ‘That’s what you can do, regardless of a collective bargaining agreement,'” said the attorney, Steven Mednick, at a meeting last week. “Until that happens, they have no authority.”

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