Public gives input on charter changes

By TAYLOR

MURCHISON-

GALLAGHER

STAFF WRITER

The city council held a public hearing on Thursday, July 19, to receive public input regarding proposed changes to the charter, as proposed by the Charter Revision Committee.

The Charter Revision Committee proposed changes to seven sections of the Charter: section 39, “to create staggered terms for the Board of Education members”; section 56, “to prohibit unlawful workplace harassment by elected and appointed officials”; sections 44 and 48A, “to remove responsibility for sanitary sewers from the Director of Public Works and assign it to the Water Department”; section 54, “to create an oversight personnel committee and change the Personnel Director’s title to Director of Human Resources”; section 25, “to re-name the joint board as the joint meeting and clarify the membership and types of bond obligations”; and, section 4, “to clarify the process and types of bond obligations regarding the issuance of bonds.”

Three individuals, city clerk, Therese Pac, director of public works, Walter Veselka, and board of public works commissioner, Donald Padlo, spoke. Pac recommend corrections to section 39, and Veselka and Padlo were both opposed to sections 44 and 48A.

Pac said there was information “missing with respect to notifying the party chairs, the nominations, and clarifying the two and four year terms.” She drafted language that was presented to the council members and corporation counsel, which would differentiate if an individual was being nominated for a two year term or a four year term.

“Basically, minority representation said that they wouldn’t be able to nominate more than six people, but those six people could be all for the four year term, so you have to apportion them… and what that does is it still means that only six people can be of the same party, but again, it apportions them between those two terms,” said Pac.

She also referred draft language to corporation counsel regarding the specification that the “election of the BOE shall coincide with the municipal election for that year.”

“I’m not sure it’s necessary because BOE terms are always on the municipal election year and even when they go to a staggered term, it will always be on a municipal election year, so, it may not be necessary, but I’ll let corporation counsel do that review before they send it on to anyone else,” said Pac.

Veselka and Padlo were both opposed to the proposed change that would move sewer sanitation from the Department of Public Works to the water department. Veselka said “water pollution control is very much integrated into the public works department.”

“The work that they do is very closely related to work done by the street division in terms of storm sewers, sanitary sewers. There’s also a lot of shared resources between the different divisions and there’s support that is given because they are part of public works, and that language would all be separated,” said Veselka. “Right now, the Board of Public Works is designated as the Sewer Authority, and having three council members and the mayor, there’s a lot of direct interaction as we do sewer projects and we look at concerns from the public. With that move and potentially going to the water board, it’s very different in that the water board has one council liaison with them… I would ask you to reconsider… this move because I think right now it’s integrated, there is a very integrated operation in water pollution and we would lose several efficiencies with this move.”

Veselka said this recommendation was put forward as an energy and cost savings plan, but to his knowledge, analysis had not been done. He also stated that several ordinance changes would be required because the Board of Public Works serves as the city sewer authority, and “even though that’s not part of the charter, there’s many things that this change would result in” what Veselka believes are “some oversight and accountability changes” the council “needs to be aware of.”

Padlo, whose family lost children due to water pollution in the 1920s, also felt that moving sewer sanitation would result in more issues than solutions.

“This motion here, to make the sewer department part of the water department concerns me in a number of ways,” said Padlo. “Having worked on the sewer committee for many years, the engineering department has been crucial… Now, having worked for the city engineer, you’re taking this apart, you’re going to interrupt a lot of things, and I’m afraid of how it’s going to affect the water department too… I think you’re making things very complicated where right now they’ve been working halfway decent.”

The council met in a special meeting following the hearing to either accept, reject, or refer the proposed changes back to the charter revision commission.

Councilor David Mills asked for more information regarding charter changes regarding the changes at the sewer department and water department. Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu asked the gathered charter revision commissioners to bring information regarding their discussions, and the viewpoints of the directors of public works and the water department, to the council.

The council unanimously voted to refer Pac’s suggestions regarding the staggered election of BOE members, as well as her language clarifications for the section on “unlawful workplace harassment by elected and appointed officials” back to the charter revision commission.

Councilor Joshua Medeiros raised a question of confidentiality regarding section 54, the creation of a personnel advisory committee. Councilor Mary Fortier said the board of ethics is made up of civilians, and have been completing their tasks without any known issues. Zoppo-Sassu hopes to have a similar structure for the personnel committee, but would require a human resources background in each of the commissioners.

Comments? Email tmurchison@BristolObserver.com.