September 10, 2008

Referendum on school projects possible

A public referendum on the $120 million plan to build two new schools remains possible, the city attorney said this week.

Dale Clift, the city attorney, said that as long as the question is phrased properly, a referendum on the issue can be held if 10 percent of the city’s registered voters sign petitions calling for one.

It’s happened before.

Three decades ago, city councilors approved a new kindergarten to eighth grade school on Peacedale Street that voters apparently didn’t want to see built. They gathered signatures, forced a referendum and gunned the project down, according to Clift and Ann Baldwin, an assistant city lawyer.

At the request of city councilors, Clift’s office is preparing a legal opinion laying out exactly what the law requires in order for a public vote to happen.

It doesn’t appear that the City Council can simply request a referendum, officials said. The only clear avenue for holding a referendum is to gather about 3,200 valid signatures.

At least two councilors, Republicans Ken Cockayne and Mike Rimcoski, said they’d like to see voters get a chance to have the last word on the project.

Though there is no group pushing for a referendum, many residents have expressed support for one.

Among them is Sherwood Road resident Tom Doyle, who said that Bristol’s residents should get “to vote on our future.”

 It isn’t clear, though, if anyone intends to pursue the matter.

The city is planning to put construct two 900-student schools beginning in June 2010. Educators say they’ll close a middle school and three aging elementary buildings when the new schools open the doors.

The proposed sites for the new schools are awaiting final approval from the City Council as well as the hiring of architects to do the complex blueprints required before construction can start.

Forcing a referendum is a tough job, as supporters of the chief operating officer proposal found this summer when they had to sweat to get the plan on November’s ballot by collecting more than 3,600 valid signatures.

Getting the right wording is also problematic.

Clift said that the issue on the ballot “cannot be vague” or too broad. He said, too, that his office can’t help write a question for a petition drive. It can only review if afterward.

“Whatever comes along, we’ll look at it,” he said.

But several officials said that something that matches to some degree the wording of the 1970s referendum ought to suffice since it’s already passed legal muster.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at


Anonymous said...

Hartford, and others are laughing at us!

Anonymous said...

Bristol is on a slippery slope.

Anonymous said...

Hartford's schools is the LAST place the Bristol school system should seek to emulate. It sucks.
Besides, they don't even vote for their BOE, it's mostly appointed isn't it?
That says a lot.

If they're laughing in Hartford, it's with envy.

Anonymous said...

It's clear that a referendum is a response to an action that the City Council has already taken. Thus, the Council doesn't vote to put a referendum question on the ballot directly without a number of petitions being signed.

But last night at the Council meeting there was some discussion on the "initiative" process.
Can the Council place an "initiative question" on the ballot directly?
What did the City Attorney say about that?
What if the question were related to a charter change regarding a right that citizen's don't currently have. Can the Council act in absence of petitions being signed?
For instance,(this is pretty raw and unpolished but you'll get the idea)- "From hence forth the citizens of Bristol shall have the right to vote on school construction projects that cost more that $5 million dollars."

Could the Council choose to put a question of this nature directly on the ballot without the necessity of citizen's collecting petitions?
Or if there must be petitions signed, what is the percentage required prior to the Council voting to place the question on the ballot?

Would you PLEASE help to clarify?


Steve Collins said...

Let's be clear on one key thing -- the council has already endorse the project to build two schools. It did that in June 2007. What we're talking about now is where to put them.
So there is a council decision that could potentially be challenged at a referendum.
As for the initiative issue, let's see what Clift has to say when he writes up a formal opinion.

Anonymous said...

Always was curious about how the "initiative" process really worked.
Reading that legal language and trying understand what it really means is an adventure to another planet.

All help truly appreciated, master Yoda.


Anonymous said...

"Hartford, and others are laughing at us!
September 10, 2008 1:48 PM"

--Let them laugh. Too bad they make me cry because they're so outrageously incompetent (in Hartford).

Anonymous said...


Great news!

Anonymous said...

These two posts are clearly people who work for the school system, probably teachers but maybe it's from repulsively over-paid, underworked administrators:

1)September 10, 2008 1:48 PM
2)September 10, 2008 2:33 PM

Anonymous said...

Yes 2:33, the slippery slope known as democracy (small "d"). You sound just like King George the Third.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it interesting, ever since Bristol started talking about a new school in the west end, the west end is looking more and more like a Albany Ave. in Hartford. Hey the minority, welfare class likes new schools too!

The myth is that with new schools, Bristol will turn into Yuppie heaven.

Anonymous said...

You may not be laughing when Hartford stops providing funding for our projects.

And i am not in nor was I in Education.

I worked in the private sector and am retired.

Anonymous said...

September 10, 2008 8:20 PM

First this is federal money.

Second, either you scare easily, you're a propogandist, or you're just a fool. Either way, YOU'RE WRONG!

Anonymous said...

Hey 8:20..your just another perfect example of the people in this town that thinks we are getting a free ride and free money!! It's "Federal" money. And where does the Feds get their funding? Well, it's the same place the Town and State gets theirs...TAXPAYERS. So, when it comes down to it, whether the money comes form Bristol, "The State" or "The Feds"'s really a moot point. It's OUR money ANY way you look at it...and we want a say as to where OUR money is going! If you pay taxes, then YOU are paying for this project. NOT the Feds, NOT the State, NOT the Town...YOU and I and everyone else that pays a damn dime in taxes. Why is this so hard for you people to grasp? It's our money and we want a say on where it's being spent. Plain and simple. Capiche?

Anonymous said...

Taint Federal money, the state bonds for it and it is paid back thru the state budget.

Please know whereof you speak!

Anonymous said...

There is no guarantees that the State money will be at 73%...Don't let the city fool you.

Steve Collins said...

The state reimbursement rate on the school project is going to be 73.9 percent. That's guaranteed as long as the city begins the work by June 13, 2010.
Nobody's fooling anyone about the percentage the state will pay.

Steve Collins said...

I think I ought to point out that while it is certainly tax money that is going to pay for the schools. And while tax money is our money, it is also true that if Bristol doesn't take the cash, some other town will. It's not like Bristol refusing the money is going to lower everybody's taxes.

Anonymous said...

Do we have any record of what Municpal Energy did before and after he "left" the company, and since he came back.

Did they file regular reports?
If not, why not?

Didn't at least one department head disagree with his depiction of teh situation, didn't the lawyers say that M.E. was supposed to do the work according to the contract?

Again, an example of politicians sticking together.

John Reek said...

delay the schools deny the kids updated facilities and decry the cost.
Boy was I mistaken that the west end could catch a break.
The mayor should start completely over, claim complete resposibility then call in every single city department for thier 2 cents then when it costs us the full amount for new schools those that are whining will be long gone laughing from thier graves.

Anonymous said...

Nothing is ever guaranteed

Anonymous said...

September 11, 2008 9:55 AM

You commented on the wrong blog thread. This discussion is about schools not energy.

Anonymous said...


Thanks, I moved it.

Anonymous said...

My question is why does bristol have to build 2 new schools at once....Cant we build one now and see if we really need another huge box school a few years from now? Lets try and save the tax payers some out of pocket expense for a change

Anonymous said...

9/10 7:35 pm.

It would not have been possible for a teacher to have posted those comments.

School was in session and the school's computers are blocked from viewing or posting on blogs and discussion forums. These sites are filtered through a state filtering system.

Anonymous said...

9:50p.m. - protecting your own or guilty conscience - ever here of laptops or blackberry or texting?