In January of last year, Middletown Town Council directed the administration and legal counsel to review the Town Charter, in order to identify provisions that would strengthen the Council’s ability to manage resources and the collective bargaining process.
On Monday night, Council voted to include four out of the five submitted proposals. In November, Middletown residents will decide if the approved changes will be adopted into the Charter.
Sec. 207 Power to determine policy; the enumerated powers
Council voted down a proposed amendment that would increase the authority of Council to create, change or abolish departments or agencies. The existing process requires public workshops and if the Council approves the change, it is placed on the ballot for voters to make the final decision.
The proposal would grant the Council the authority to change departments without a public vote.
“It’s dangerous,” said Councilor Chris Semonelli about the proposal to remove the voters from the process. He pointed out if the amendment passed, Council would have the authority to remove the police and fire departments without voter input.
Councilor Bruce Long agreed that the step to have the voters decide should not be eliminated.
“The process of changing a department, might be more than the council should have power over,” said Long.
The motion failed with a 1-5 vote, with Council President Arthur Weber in favor. Councilor Edward Silveira was absent.
Council unanimously approved an amendment to the same section, Sec. 207 (d), that would allow the Council to merge common duties, functions and services of any town agency.
Long said although Newport and Portsmouth have had discussions about shared services, the amendment would be a formal step in that direction.
“What we are doing here, is we are taking it one step further," said Long. “We are going to go directly to the people of Middletown, and ask them for a directive,” he said.
Section 911. Personnel Review Board
Council unanimously approved a proposed amendment that would clarify language regarding the oversight of the Personnel Review Board, which would be only be for classified employee disciplinary matters.
Section 913. Right to Organize; Strikes
Council unanimously approved two motions to amend Section 913. Right to Organize; Strikes.
The first change states that no agreement would be binding to the extent that it is inconsistent with the terms of the Charter, the Constitution, the laws of the State or the lawful enactments of the town.
The second amendment to the Section would provide that no collective bargaining agreement, including those related to the school department, can take effect without Council ratification, after the Council has had a complete cost impact statement for at least seven days.
"The Town Council appropriates 100 percent of the money, but the School Department is responsible for over 60 percent of the expenditures,” said Councilor Long. “This would provide a mechanism for the appropriating body, the Town Council, to have final review over the School Department labor contracts to ensure their bottom line going forward meets the projections of the administration,” said the Councilor.