FAIRFIELD — Only one candidate has returned nomination papers to be on a proposed panel to review and offer revisions of the town charter.

Voters in November will be asked if they want to approve a charter commission and elect six residents to serve on it.

As of last week’s deadline, however, only one candidate returned papers with the necessary signatures to be on the ballot, leaving five open slots. Those positions could be filled by write-in candidates on Election Day, but the commission might have to appoint some of its own members if it is approved without full membership.

Timothy Martin, the sole commission candidate, said in an interview Wednesday that he hadn’t been interested in serving but decided to stand for election at the urging of Councilor John Picchiotti.

“I didn’t want to be on the commission. They asked me to,” Martin said. His real interest is a run for a seat on the School Administrative District 49 School Board.

A proposed charter commission was narrowly rejected by voters last year, even though the six candidates to the panel were all elected to their seats. The Town Council voted earlier this year to send the question back to voters. Voters will be asked whether they want to establish the commission and will vote on candidates to fill it.

The commission would take a comprehensive look at the charter, Fairfield’s governing document, and recommend changes. Proposed changes would need to get voter approval in a second referendum the town plans to hold in 2016.

The town hasn’t had a comprehensive charter review in decades. The charter lays out how town government is organized, and the commission could recommend big changes, such as altering the make-up of the council or replacing the Town Meeting with a ballot referendum, a change Martin supports.

“I think it is absolutely something the town needs. It is unfair that 50 people vote at a Town Meeting” and decide a budget for the town, Martin said.

In addition to the six elected representatives, three commission members would be appointed by the Town Council.

When it approved the second referendum, officials said voters didn’t understand the issue well last November, and they hoped to generate more interest in the process before this year’s vote.

It isn’t clear whether the lack of candidates is symptomatic of a broader disinterest in the charter commission in town.

“It certainly speaks to the level of interest in the community for people to serve on the commission,” outgoing Town Manager Josh Reny said.

Only four people, including Martin, took out nomination papers for the commission. The papers were available in August and were due back to the Town Office by last Friday.

Two people who took out papers, Stephanie Thibodeau and Aaron Rowden, are both also town councilors.

“I was hoping other people would take out papers, and if necessary I would serve to make six people, but ultimately decided not to stand,” Rowden said in an interview Wednesday.

The commission is still a “conversation worth having” and the council needs to get voter input on it, but so far not much interest has been expressed to him, Rowden said.

“Quite frankly, very few people have discussed the charter commission with me,” he said.

Thibodeau, on Wednesday, said she intended to return her nomination papers but got involved with other issues, such as planning Fairfield Days and dealing with a search to replace Reny as town manager.

The charter commission hasn’t registered with people in town, she said.

“We’ve been talking about it for months at Town Council meetings and still didn’t get a good response” from residents to run for the commission, Thibodeau said.

“I don’t even think people know it is going to be on the ballot,” she said.

“It’s not apathy. It is a matter of what is priority,” she said, suggesting that what is going on in town might not be the most important thing residents have to consider.

Residents are allowed to run an undeclared write-in campaign to get elected to the commission, said Bill Lee, the town’s attorney. As long as they are willing to accept the position, such candidacies could fill up the empty slots on the ballot.

“That is probably what is likely to occur,” Lee said.

The process of establishing a charter commission is outlined by state law. If the commission is established without the full six elected members, the members who are seated may have the authority to appoint people to fill the vacancies, but the statute wording is a little unclear, Lee said.

“To give you a definitive opinion, I’d have to wait until the problem arises,” he said.

Shawn Knox, who also took out nomination papers for the commission, said he didn’t get a chance to return them by the deadline, but he intends to run as a write-in candidate.

“I still have interest in it, absolutely,” Knox said. “It needs to be done, and it’s a good idea.”

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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