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The Board of Selectmen (BOS) officially adopted a timeline for a referendum concerning the school renewal plan and the Academy community center project on Feb. 24, aiming for a stand-alone vote in the first week of October. The move passes on a party-line vote over the objections of the Republican minority.
The agenda item had not been previously announced, and the BOS had to go through the procedural motions to open the agenda and create a new action item to set the date.
First Selectman Peggy Lyons (D) said that she had only received a response from the town’s bond counsel regarding the referendum on the afternoon of Feb. 24, before the 6 p.m. Monday meeting; the agenda had to be set the previous Friday, Feb. 21.
The vote does not set the wording of the questions or other issues for the referendum, it only lays out a timeline, according to Lyons, which she said is important for public outreach and communication plans for both the schools and the Academy project.
State statute places restrictions on outreach or advocacy efforts by town government and school districts during the time leading up to referenda. Lyons said an October vote gives the school district time in September, when school is in session, to advocate and answer questions about the project.
State rules require 45 days’ notice for a local standalone referendum, so it is unclear what efforts the town would undertake in September given an early October referendum; The Source was seeking further information at press time.
Selectman Bruce Wilson (R) argued that a November date would be more appropriate due to a guaranteed much higher voter turnout, and “strongly objected” to the fact the BOS was voting without prior public notice. The lower turnout might serve to invalidate the results of the referenda, he said.
Selectman Erin Duques (R) also said she felt it was inappropriate as far as the process, and that she had not been given time herself to consider the question of the date, and what would be best.
Lyons responded that the BOS had discussed the timeline a handful of times publicly over the last few months, and also cited recent articles in The Source on the subject.
Lyons and her fellow Democrats on the BOS, Al Goldberg and Scott Murphy, also emphasized the importance of the schools being able to implement a communication plan next fall. A November date would also require school employees to work during August, according to Lyons, which would be disruptive for those employees’ schedules.
Lyons also said that the questions would be “drowned out” by the presidential and other elections taking place in November.
The final vote saw the Lyons, Goldberg, and Murphy voting in favor of setting the date, with Wilson voting against and Duques abstaining.
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