First Selectman Ketcham called the Special Town Meeting to order on May 20, 2013 at 7:31 pm in the Redding Community Center. More than 100 people were present. Mrs. Ketcham noted that the Town Attorney, Michael Lavelle, was present should legal questions come up in the discussion.
Mrs. Ketcham called for the election of a moderator for the meeting.
David Pattee nominated Richard Emerson to be moderator and the nomination was seconded by Joe Ventricelli. Those present unanimously approved the nomination.
Mr. Emerson called on Kerry Miserendino, Deputy Town Clerk to read the Call of the Meeting.
Notice of Special Town Meeting
The Legal Voters in the Town of Redding, Connecticut, and those entitled to vote therein are hereby warned and notified to meet at a Special Town Meeting to be held at the Redding Community Center, Redding, Connecticut on Monday, May 20, 2013 at 7:30 pm for the following purpose:
To adopt the proposed Police Commission Ordinance for the establishment of a Police Commission in the Town of Redding. (such ordinance is available in the Town Clerk’s Office or at http://www.townof reddingct.org/).
The meeting is for discussion only. On the initiative of the Board of Selectmen, the vote has been adjourned to a machine vote on June 3, 2013 at the Redding Community Center between 6 am and 8 pm.
To do any and all things legal and necessary to accomplish the above named purpose and take any other action that may legally and properly come before the meeting.
Dated at Redding, Connecticut this 9th day of May, 2013.
Signed by the Board of Selectmen
Mr. Emerson noted that he had received notification certifying publication of the Notice of Special Town Meeting and it would be filed with the proceedings of the meeting.
Mr. Emerson called on Erica Vibbert to speak on behalf of the proponents of the Ordinance.
Erica Vibbert, Churchill Road: Mrs. Vibbert read a statement regarding the petition for a Police Commission Ordinance that is being brought forward. She noted a drive to establish a Police Commission Board was initiated in 2007 by Joe Paola and again in 2011 by herself. Neither of these were successful. Scot Sanford submitted the current petition, signed by 20 residents on May 1, 2013. Mrs. Vibbert provided information on how many towns in Connecticut have established Police Commission boards and reviewed the role of the Police Commission Board, including duties and responsibilities according to Connecticut State statutes.
Mrs. Vibbert called on Peter Torrano, a member of the Police Commission Association of CT and Chairman of the Norwalk Police Commission, to provide further information and answer questions. Mr. Torrano described the working of the Police Commission Board in Norwalk and in other towns. He then took questions from the audience.
Wes Higgins, Great Pasture Road: Mr. Higgins asked if a Police Commission Board denied a equipment purchase request of the police department, could the Board of Selectmen overrule the decision and authorize the purchase. Mr. Torrano responded that the answer is no, the Police Commission has the ultimate authority, but generally they work hand in hand with the Selectmen
William Brown, Lonetown Road: Mr. Brown asked Mr. Torrano about the pros and cons of a Police Commission Board, particularly from the viewpoint of towns that went to a police commission board concept. Mr. Torrano responded that the Board would provide a higher level of oversight of the police department. He added that every town is different and has unique needs. It does set up a buffer between the Chief of Police, the administration and the citizens. In Norwalk, the Police Commission board has open meetings and also acts as the traffic authority with control over street lights, traffic lights, etc.
Jim Lang, Black Rock Turnpike: Mr. Lang asked what the issues were that generally trigger the desire for the town to have a police commission board. Mr. Torrano noted that many of the towns have had police commission boards since the towns were established. He added that the powers of the police commission board are enormous by state statute. In Norwalk the police commission board does not negotiate the contract, they hire attorneys to do that. He could not respond to what triggers each town’s desire for a police commission board, and was not aware of what triggered the action in Redding.
Mr. Emerson thanked Mr. Torrano and asked him to stay in case further questions came up.
First Selectman Natalie Ketcham, representing the Board of Selectmen, addressed the meeting regarding the request for a police commission board. She stated that at the last Board of Selectmen meeting, with many of the petitioners in attendance, the issue of a police commission board was discussed. The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously in opposition to the establishment of an ordinance to create a police commission board. One reason for the opposition is that this would constitute an expansion of local government. Currently the Chief of Police functions as a department head, responsible to the Board of Selectmen and on a daily basis to the First Selectman. In addition, there would likely be additional costs incurred for the Town. Any costs incurred by the volunteer members of the police commission board in their duties/roles would be reimbursed through the town budget, something other boards and commission volunteers do not do without prior approvals. The police commission board would not report to the board of selectmen and would approve its own budget which the town is obligated to pay. The voters of Redding have the opportunity to approve town leadership with the 2-year terms of the board of selectmen; the police commission board would have 4-year terms. In addition, Mrs. Ketcham noted that when the town studied the move from a state trooper to police chief town (2001), a study was done by the Police Foundation in Washington DC. Their report strongly advised against forming a police commission board. In conclusion, Mrs. Ketcham stated that the Board of Selectmen does not believe the formation of a police commission board would be in the town’s best interests.
Mr. Emerson opened the meeting to comments.
Dan Heller, Sport Hill Road: Mr. Heller commented that the issue is moving too fast. He stated that a town does not change governance to hold down costs. He cited the petitioner’s claim to cut costs, but has not heard any plan to do so. He asked if the fire districts, each governed by a fire commission board, had any control over the costs associated with their departments. Mr. Heller asked the voters to turn down the request for a police commission board.
Alex Gray, Limekiln Road: Mr. Gray provided economic information on the rate of growth in Redding and the impact of the budget. He urged that the spending of the town be kept in control. He commented that the growth of the police department budget was out of control and was taking resources away from the other departments of town.
Sara Sobel, Putnam Hill Road: Mrs. Sobel spoke against the formation of a police commission board. Her statement included her support for the current operation and oversight of the police department. She asked the voters to defeat the proposal.
Joe Ventricelli: Mr. Ventricelli, Chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, stated that after careful consideration and discussion, the Democratic Town Committee voted unanimously to oppose the creation of an elected board of police commissioners. Mr. Ventricelli went on to comment that there was no assurance that a police commission board would result in less spending.
Ward Mazzucco, Wood Road: Mr. Mazzucco, Chairman of the Republican Town Committee, was in agreement with Mr. Ventricelli’s comments. The RTC also voted unanimously to oppose the proposal to establish a police commission board. The Committee believed that this would be an expansion of government and there would be additional costs associated with the board since the actual expenditures of the volunteer board members in conjunction with their duties will be funded through the town budget.
Mark Von Dwingelo, Guardhouse Drive: Mr. Von Dwingelo commented that he did not know if the police commission board would keep the cost down, but there must be more control over the spending of the residents’ money.
David Pattee, Pine Mountain Road: Mr. Pattee commented that the Police Department budget is 4.1% of the total budget. He noted that the Police Department budget also includes the Communications Center which serves both the police and the three fire departments in town. He suggested that perhaps the fire districts should be asked to carry some of the Communications Center costs. Mr. Pattee also noted that his fire tax represented 6.05% of his real estate tax amount, and this was for a volunteer department managed by a fire commission board, and compared that to the 4% for the police budget that included professional staffing. He added that the town’s budget also includes the worker’s compensation costs for the fire departments. He urged a no vote on the proposal for a police commission board.
John Fisher, Woods Way: Mr. Fisher spoke of the exceptional performance by the Redding Police Department. He added that the police commission board would be a bad idea for Redding, would add bureaucracy and would cost the resident taxpayers additional money. He asked that the petitioners withdraw their request and save the cost of a machine vote on the issue.
Andrew Scott, Black Rock Turnpike: Mr. Scott commented on the fine leadership of the Police Department by Chief Doug Fuchs.
Leon Karvelis, Umpawaug Road: Mr. Karvelis commented that he looked closely at the proposal and talked with residents of towns with police commission boards. He found that most of those he spoke with were not in favor of police commission boards. Mr. Karvelis is opposed to the matter.
There were no further comments from the public.
Motion: move to adjourn the Public Meeting. Pattee, Ventricelli. Approved. Unanimous.
Mr. Emerson adjourned the meeting at 8:41 pm
Mary Maday, Recording Secretary