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April 6, 2020
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Government Studies Committee Appointed, Will Soon Conduct Resident Survey

Published Feb. 19, 2020

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The Board of Selectmen (BOS) has named seven members to the Ad-Hoc Government Study Committee. The committee is charged with examining Madison’s fundamental form of government over the next three months.

The members of the committee are Helen Burland, Jean Ferris, Lauren Noble, Bob Polito, Bob Reinhardt, Peter Roos, and Leo White. They will hold their first meeting in the coming weeks as they consider whether or not to recommend to the BOS significant changes, up to endorsing an entirely new style of government.

In September, former first selectman Tom Banisch oversaw the creation of a charge for a charter review commission—one that was more broad, and would have aimed to get a question on the November 2020 ballot, taking advantage of high turnout in a presidential election year.

First Selectman Peggy Lyons, after winning the office in November, chose to implement what she has described as a two-step process, with the Government Study Committee passing on its findings to a full charter review commission, likely in May, and with no hard deadline for a ballot question.

The BOS approved the charge in December, and then solicited applications and interviewed candidates.

Any change to Madison’s charter must be approved by referendum, the charter dictates.

While the future charter review commission is likely to take a broader, more detailed look at many aspects and elements of the charter, the seven members of the Government Study Committee will focus specifically on more foundational parts of Madison’s government, up to and including recommending a change from its current town meeting format.

The committee is required by its charge to bring its findings to the BOS in May.

Polito, who is serving as the committee’s chair, is new to this kinds of appointed committee, though he has substantial leadership experience, currently serving as chair of the board at health care services company Masonicare in Wallingford. A recently retired banker and Madison resident for more than 25 years, he said his interest in the committee comes from an academic background in public policy.

“Whatever value that has...I’m hoping I can use that on this committee,” he said.

Though Polito said he felt it wasn’t appropriate right now to discuss in detail his own opinions specifically on Madison’s form of government, he said he did follow previous charter review processes, and was aware of the conversations around changing the charter.

Ferris, another member of the committee, previously served on a charter review commission in Madison.

Polito said the committee’s first priority would be to design and disseminate a survey of some kind—something its charge requires. The committee will then have to work quickly and efficiently to accomplish the rest of its charge, which includes looking at other Connecticut town’s charters and types of government, along with various public input sessions.

One likely example to be reviewed will be Clinton, which in 2018 voted to move from a BOS/Board of Finance/first selectman form of government to its current town council/town manager form.

Lyons told The Source she would be open to giving the committee more time if it didn’t feel comfortable offering recommendations in May. She also said she would be suggesting its members look at a handful of specific concerns, including the formation of an ethics commission, which Madison doesn’t have, and a lack of participation by residents.

“Ideally, it would be great to have a recommendation about changes that should be made...I do want them to look into the other topics that we’ve discussed,” Lyons said. “They may look at other governments in other parts of Connecticut—do they have ethics commissions?—and how their boards and commissions are appointed. Those are two research topics that I also want them to put on their list.”

Polito said that the kind of work the committee will be doing has the potential for interesting interactive processes than a lot of his other previous roles in the private sector.

“I think it’s more exciting, because I think the more diverse opinions and the more feedback we can get from...our townfolk, I think that’s better,” he said. “This is going to be a lot of listening versus us telling anybody anything, for sure.”

Lyons has previously said she thinks it is likely that some, or even all the members of the Government Study Committee will join the future charter review commission.

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