A petition drive is getting underway aimed at making it possible for the public decide whether to create a chief operating officer at City Hall.
Following a City Council vote on Monday to reject the idea, two backers of the position, veteran Democratic city Councilor Craig Minor and rookie Republican Councilor Ken Cockayne, said they plan to lead a bipartisan drive to secure the needed petitions.
Among those joining the effort is former GOP mayoral contender Ken Johnson, who accused Mayor Art Ward and the four councilors who opposed the plan of displaying “the height of hypocrisy” in refusing to give people the chance to choose their form of government. “I congratulate Mr. Minor and Mr. Cockayne for having the courage to stick to their convictions and I am proud to join them in a bi-partisan effort to right this wrong,” Johnson said.
To overturn the 5-2 council decision, backers need to round up more than 3,000 signatures from registered voters within 45 days. If they can pull it off, the charter revision proposal will automatically make the November 4 ballot.
Organizers seeking to let voters decide whether to create a chief operating officer in Bristol have scheduled a kick-off rally from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday in the Sovereign Bank parking lot on North Main Street.
“We’re going to generally have a festive atmosphere. There will be clipboards with lots of petitions,” Minor said Tuesday.
Backers say the post would bring more long-term planning and efficiency to municipal government, saving more money than the relatively small tab for a new office in city government.
Critics say the job isn’t needed and will cost taxpayers more at a time when Bristol is already struggling to hold down taxes and pare spending.
Two other proposals from the charter panel – to increase the terms of office for the registrars and assistant city clerk from two to four years – will be on the ballot following a unanimous thumbs-up from councilors.
Opposing the chief operating officer plan were Mayor Art Ward and Councilors Cliff Block, Mike Rimcoski, Kevin McCauley and Frank Nicastro. Rimcoski is a Republican. The rest are Democrats.
Update - Minor sent a press release out shortly before midnight Tuesday. Here it is:
One Republican and one Democrat City Councilman are conducting a petition signing event this Saturday, June 21 from 1 pm to 3 pm outside Sovereign Bank on the corner of North Main Street and North Street in downtown Bristol.
Ken Cockayne (R, Second Council District) and Craig Minor (D, Third Council District) are joining forces to give Bristol voters the chance to decide on the “Chief Operating Officer” position recommended by the Charter Revision Commission. The proposal was shot down by the City Council at a special meeting on Monday, June 16 on a 5-2 vote. State law gives the COO a second chance, but only if its supporters can collect enough signatures within 45 days.
"I feel very strongly that this is an issue that people should get to decide," Cockayne said.“Instead of the select few of us seven on the City Council, the choice should be made by city voters come November.”
Under Connecticut state law, the organizers have 45 days from June 16 to collect signatures from 10% of all registered voters in Bristol. They estimate that number to be just under 3,100. The wording of the petition was carefully developed by the committee to make sure it will pass muster with City Clerk Therese Pac and Corporation Counsel Dale Clift. “We don’t want a repeat of what happened several years ago, when a group of citizens wanted to amend the charter to require voter approval of certain “big ticket” items, but went about it wrongly” Councilmember Minor said. “We checked the state statutes to make sure the wording is right, and we’re going to make sure our signature-collectors know that the person signing the petition is a registered voter in Bristol.”
Registered voters who want to help collect signatures can contact Craig Minor (582-1061 or email@example.com) or Ken Cockayne (584-5918).
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