SOUTHINGTON — Voters rejected the controversial proposal to change the Town Charter that would have given the town manager authority over the police and fire departments.
Charter Revision Commission chairman Brian Callahan said “voters got it wrong.”
“I still believe that changing the charter was the right thing to do,” he said.
The proposal of eliminating the power of the police and fire commissions and giving the authority to the town manager brought a lot of contention between political parties and between members of the police and fire commissions. Many Republicans, including Callahan, believed the change would be an advantage for the departments because they would to report to the same person. Democrats thought it would be giving too much power to one person.
Some police and fire commissioners weren’t happy with the idea and were relieved when it did not pass by voters.
“I’m delighted,” said Republican fire board member Ann Dandrow. “I felt just having one man have so much power, even though the council did have some checks on it, really wasn’t what the people of Southington wanted.”
“I have nothing against the town manager I think he’s a good man… but I think the way it is right now is fine,” said Republican police board member Nick DePaola. “I’m happy. I really am. I don’t see any need for the change.”
Mary Baker, the Republican fire commission chairwoman, had hoped voters would support the change because the town manager could have helped to accept grants and sign contracts more easily.
“I felt the proposal made sense,” she said.
In March, Republican Town Council Chairman John Dobbins brought up the idea of opening the charter, saying he would like to see the fire and police report directly to the town manager. The Republicans the voted to open the charter, which Democrats opposed, and by a 6-3 party-line vote a Charter Revision Commission was formed.
Three Republicans on the five-person commission voted to send three questions to referendum on Tuesday. Voters also rejected raising the minimum monetary threshold for putting town contracts out to bid from $10,000 to $25,000 and raising the amount for Public Works contracts requiring public bidding from $5,000 to $25,000.
But they agreed to allow the town manager to authorize transfers of up to $1,000 into or out of a line item within a department’s budget.
“The voters were smart enough to reject the two because they were significant changes,” said Dennis Conroy, a Democratic member of the Charter Revision Commission. “I thought it was good. It was an issue that, as far as I was concerned, it was just ill conceived by the people that proposed it.”
Callahan took some of the blame for the turnout, saying he didn’t “do a good enough job” of explaining the different options of the changes to the public.
“I respect the people’s decision. They voted with what they thought was the right thing for the town,” Callahan said. “In retrospect, I didn’t communicate to the public as well as I should have. I’m not upset or angry about it. I think while the public voted the way they thought was the right thing to do and I think they got it wrong and I don’t blame them for that.”