FAIRFIELD — The Town Council is taking another shot at starting a comprehensive review of Fairfield’s charter, after voters narrowly rejected the proposal last November.

At a meeting this week, councilors voted unanimously to put the question of whether to form a charter commission to voters at the general election in November.

The nine-member commission would review the 11-page document and make suggestions for revisions. The commission’s proposal would have to return to voters for final adoption.

Fairfield’s charter lays out the organization of town government. It hasn’t been subjected to a full review since it was adopted 30 years ago, although it has been amended several times, most recently in 2008.

With all the changes in town since it was adopted, officials have said it is time to take a look at the charter and see whether some parts of it can be updated.

When the proposal was submitted to voters in a referendum last November, however, it was shot down in a 1,080-948 vote.


The problem appears to be that the issue was misunderstood, Town Manager Josh Reny said Friday.

Following the vote, he received a number of calls from voters who were confused about the referendum question, he added.

“A lot of people didn’t know what it was about,” Reny said.

Town Council members received similar messages from voters, prompting the council to think misunderstanding, not opposition, caused the proposal’s defeat. That led councilors to bring a charter commission plan back to the voters.

“Our perception was that people didn’t understand why it was proposed and what it was,” Reny said.

The intention is to take a comprehensive look at the town’s charter and suggest amendments to suit the town’s current needs better.


Fairfield operates with a town council and a town manager, but residents form its legislative body, and it still holds a Town Meeting, principally to approve the annual budget.

The commission’s recommendations could be as minor as changing the town meeting date or as sweeping as an entirely different form of town government. Areas of discussion could be a change in the number of councilors, amending the Budget Committee’s role, or even doing away with Town Meeting entirely in favor of a more powerful council.

In fact, the commission could begin working and decide that it wants to scrap the current charter entirely and start on a fresh document, or decide that no changes are needed, Reny said.

If it is created, the commission will only be able to make a recommendation, it will not have the authority to make changes. That choice will ultimately lay in the hands of voters in town. “If the voters vote to form a charter commission, it does not mean the charter is going to change,” Reny said.

The goal is to have a revised charter ready in time for the 2016 general election, Reny said.

The commission would have six members elected by secret ballot and three others appointed by the Town Council. The elected members would be able to take out nomination papers in August and would be on the ballot with the charter commission referendum, Reny said. If the referendum passes, the winning candidates will be seated.


Until then, the council intends to make a bigger effort to inform residents about the referendum and the proposed commission.

“We need to do a better job of explaining why this is a healthy thing to do,” Reny said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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