FAIRFIELD — The newly formed Fairfield Charter Commission held its first meeting this week, choosing two commission chairpersons and setting a schedule for future meetings and public hearings.

Sharing leadership of the commission are Dawn DiBlasi and Franklin Bouchard. DiBlasi is the Somerset County administrator and Bouchard is a former Town Council member.

Other commission members are Ariel Spaulding, Tim Martin, Shawn Knox, Harold Murray, Terry Michaud, Stephanie Thibodeau and Joe Rowden.

Commission meetings are scheduled for 6:15 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of the month in the council chambers at the Fairfield Community Center. Public hearings have been scheduled for 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, and tentatively for 10 a.m. Saturday, March 5, both at the Community Center.

“We will be listening to the department heads as to what they think works and what doesn’t, and we will be listening to the public,” DiBlasi said. “My goal is to update any outdated policies that either no longer apply or work for the town or townspeople. I also think it is important to act in the best interests of the townspeople so if they give strong opposition to something, I will be giving that strong consideration.”

Voters in November narrowly approved setting up a charter commission to study town government and possibly change how it operates. The vote was 357-324 to create the nine-member panel.

Voters in November 2014 had voted 1,080-948 against a town charter commission, but they reconsidered after the Town Council put the question on the ballot again last year.

With the exception of a few minor amendments over the years, the Fairfield town charter has not been changed in three decades. Fairfield’s municipal government includes a Town Meeting, a Town Council and a town manager.

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 include 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.

Former Town Manager Josh Reny said in 2014 that attendance at the annual Town Meeting in May of that year was less than 1 percent of registered voters in a town with a population of 6,735, a point the charter commission would be expected to look at. If only a small percentage of people show up at Town Meeting, then it is those few who dictate spending for the coming year, Reny said. He said residents have expressed concern that the low turnout may not be the most democratic process, and that will be one of the issues the charter commission would tackle.

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

The commission will be able only to make a recommendation; it will not have the authority to make changes. That choice ultimately is up to the voters.

Fairfield’s town council-town manager form of local government combines the political leadership of elected officials in the form of a governing council with the experience of an appointed local government manager. The town manager is appointed by the Town Council.

The town manager is the chief administrative officer of the town of Fairfield and is responsible for the management of all town affairs as provided for in the town charter. The manager oversees each of the town departments and is responsible for their performance.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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