If city councilors refuse again next month to back a referendum on whether to create a chief operating officer at City Hall, Republicans have formally thrown their weight behind the growing effort to give voters the choice anyway.
“People want to be heard,” said Mickey Goldwasser.
“This is not a Republican issue. This is not a Democratic issue. This is a Bristol issue,” he said.
The GOP’s town committee unanimously agreed recently to help the bipartisan effort that city Councilors Craig Minor and Ken Cockayne are putting together to make sure the referendum takes place in November.
To pull it off, supporters need to gather more than 3,000 signatures from registered voters in the 45-day period after the City Council formally rejects the proposal from the Charter Revision Commission. That will likely happen by the end of June.
The council has already taken a preliminary stand on the issue, in which four councilors and Mayor Art Ward indicated their opposition to the plan. Only Minor, a Democrat, and Cockayne, a Republican, favor the suggested change in the city government’s blueprint.
Supporters say a chief operating officer would bring greater supervision to municipal departments and find ways to make the city run more efficiently. Detractors say the job would be a waste of money.
Tom Barnes, Jr, the city GOP chairman, said the Republicans aren’t going to take a stand on the proposal itself.
But, he said, it is “an insult to the people of Bristol” for the Democrat-controlled council to refuse to let the public have the final say on the chief operating officer at the voting booth.
“We should be allowed to say yea or nay,” Barnes said.
Cockayne said that planning is already underway to make sure that the signatures are properly gathered on forms that pass legal muster. A new website will be used to help rally support, he said.
“We’re in the process of putting together a small army,” Cockayne said.
At Minor’s suggestion, backers are planning a kickoff rally when their petition drive begins, Cockayne said, to help ensure the drive “hits the ground rolling.”
Cockayne said that Ward and the council members who voted against the plan were “endorsed by the unions” during last year’s campaign and are beholden to them now. He said that union opposition is the reason politicians are afraid to let the public vote.
“I work for all the people of Bristol,” Cockayne said.
Former Republican council hopeful Bob Merrick, a teacher who lost to Minor last year, said he received the union’s endorsement despite telling its leaders that he believed people should be able to vote on the issue.
Cockayne said that once the signatures are gathered this summer, an all-out effort to educate the public on the chief operating officer issue will begin. Businessman Craig Yarde is among those pushing hard to have the city create the post and has indicated he will help promote it.
Republican Registrar Ellie Klapatch said that with the presidential election still attracting record numbers of new voters, it’s a good year to have the issue on the ballot.
There will likely be twice as many voters in November this year as the city saw go to the polls last fall for the municipal election, party leaders said.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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