SOUTHINGTON – Voters will decide whether to change town charter rules on library authority at a referendum this fall.
In a party-line vote, the Town Council sent the proposed charter change to a referendum scheduled for the Nov. 8 general election.
Republicans, who hold a majority on the council, said new language will clarify roles for the town manager, library director and the library board. The existing language is based partly on state statute and there’s confusion about roles, supporters said.
The council’s six Republicans voted in favor of putting the charter revision commission’s suggested changes to the voters. If approved, the town manager will oversee personnel and finances at the Southington Public Library and the Barnes Museum, while the library board will have authority over programming and other policies.
Council Democrats said voters already rejected similar charter changes that would have given the town manager more authority over the police and fire departments. They voted against sending the issue to referendum at a council meeting this week.
Clarity, local control
The Republican-led council created a charter revision commission this year to consider library leadership changes. While Democrats also wanted the commission to consider modifications to other issues such as minority representation and term limits, the Republican-led commission only recommended changes in library authority.
Library director Kristi Sadowski reports to the appointed, nine-member library board and Town Manager Mark Sciota.
In addition to leading the library, Sadowski is also in charge of the Barnes Museum.
“It’s crystal clear who runs what,” said Mark Lajoie, a Republican and charter commission chairman. “The town manager is responsible for one side, the library board is responsible for other operations.”
Victoria Triano, council chairwoman and a Republican, didn’t want local library authority governed by state law. State statute determines the roles of the library board and library director in absence of local rules.
“The whole idea in this is to bring local control,” Triano said. “This takes it out of the state hands and gives it back to the board of (library) directors and town managers.”
Failed changes to police, fire boards
In 2013, voters shot down a suggested charter change that would have given the town manager authority over the police and fire departments. Both emergency services departments have civilian boards that govern operations.
Chris Palmieri, a Democratic councilor, said the 2013 referendum shows voters prefer board control over town departments.
“The same structure (as the proposed library change) was opposed and the electorate voted ‘no’ for both of them,” he said.
He and other Democrats were disappointed that other charter changes were not recommended by the commission. Val DePaolo, a Democratic councilor and attorney, had a host of language suggestions for the library proposal but none were adopted.
Paul Chaplinsky, council vice chairman and a Republican, said there was already charter direction on how public safety departments and accompanying boards function.
“Those boards actually have details in the charter on how those boards are managed,” Chaplinsky said. “Our library doesn’t (have) that. The problem is there’s no clarity.”
Public comments at the council meeting
Democrat John Moise, a former fire board member, suggested there were more reasons that Republicans wanted to change the library organization.
“I worry about censorship about books and removal of books. This will be much easier under the control of one,” Moise said at the council meeting, referring to the town manager. “I worry that the Southington (library director) has supported the (Southington) pride group’s requests last year and ruffled some Republican feathers.”
Lajoie pushed back on Moise’s suggestions.
“We were tasked by the library director and the board of the library to provide clarity as to who runs the operations. I feel we did so. There’s no agenda here, there’s nothing other than clarity as to what the town manager is responsible for and what the librarian board is responsible for,” Lajoie said.
Sadowski also spoke at the council meeting about the changes that would affect her job.
“I think a lot of what we’re looking for is in there,” she said. “I thought there was some inconsistencies in the language in regards to my position versus some of the ways the charter dealt with other director positions.”