Voters gunned down a proposal to create a chief operating officer by a wide margin at the polls Tuesday.
The plan to have a city manager-lite oversee municipal departments garnered support from 40 percent of voters, according to official results.
“I’m surprised it went down so big,” said state Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat who opposed the charter revision plan but thought it had wider support in the community.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne said that the goal of supporters was to give voters a choice.
“They had their say,” he said, “and now we have to move forward.”
“Perhaps this wasn’t the right answer,” said another backer, former GOP mayoral candidate Ken Johnson.
He said, though, that “people are still looking for change” at City Hall.
Johnson said he believes that Mayor Art Ward’s strong opposition to the proposed charter revision “swung it quite substantially” toward the mayor’s stance.
“I was disappointed to see him take a stand,” Johnson said, because a Democratic mayor in a Democratic town holds some clout.
“I’m humbled that he thinks so,” Ward responded later. “I thank him for giving me credit for that much foresight for the city.”
Ward said that with hard times at hand, people weren’t about to back a plan to create a costly new position in city government.
The voters, he said, “recognize what’s fiscally responsible for the city with these tough economic times.”
The final tally was 13,148 opposed and 8,828 in favor, a 60-40 split.
Those who backed the measure had to launch a petition drive this summer to get it on the ballot over the opposition of the City Council. They argued that the position was crucial to bring more efficiency, oversight and continuity to the city bureaucracy.
But critics said that spending about $250,000 a year for an unproven change didn’t make sense in the middle of a recession.
Johnson said that the challenge of pushing the idea through clearly was harder than he anticipated.
“It was more daunting than I had imagined because of the coattails from the top of the national ticket,” Johnson said, which brought more Democrats to the polls.
He said that pro-COO officials are grateful to the thousands who signed the petitions to get the proposal on the ballot and to the many people who stood at the polls all day to tout the concept to voters.
With the defeat of the COO plan, it is possible that Ward will pursue an alternative to add a part-time aide to the mayor’s staff, something that former Mayor Gerard Couture tried but was dropped when William Stortz took office.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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