There could be a change brewing in the way Southington’s is managed.
Members of the Southington Town Council heard from a full house Monday evening as they held a public hearing into a proposed ordinance change that would strip the Senior Citizen Commission of it’s power as the authority over Executive Director Bob Verderame, instead putting that power in the hands of the .
The message from those in favor of the proposal was loud and clear, times have changed and a change in the ordinance is needed.
“I am pleased you are interested in considering that,” said local resident Clifford Snow. “The commission, which I have the utmost respect for, meets once a month and just 11 times per year. Yet the members have the authority to tell Mr. Verderame what to do. It’s a problem.”
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Cheryl Lounsbury, chairwoman of the council’s ordinance committee, said the proposed change is designed to streamline town management and operations, not take the power away from the Senior Citizen Commission.
She said under the proposed change, oversight of day-to-day operations would fall to the town manager and he or she would also be responsible oversight of any contract negotiations and personnel matters. The Senior Citizen Commission would remain in tact and would be a strong advisory commission responsible for reviewing activities, helping present a budget to the town manager and more.
Lounsbury praised the commission’s work but said, “when we started more than 20 years ago, I don’t think we were sure if that community really supported a town manager form of government and I think we have confirmed they do. What this does is bring all department heads under leadership of town manager.”
Members of the Commission, several of which were present to speak at Monday’s hearing, . Sandra Micalizzi and Lynn Maschi said the change makes the board seem political when politics have not been a part of the commission since it’s inception.
But others said now is the time for change.
Peter Freeman, president of Calendar House Membership Association, was the first of several local seniors to speak in favor of the proposal by saying, “things have changed” and asking the Southington Town Council to follow through with the proposed restructuring of the town charter.
Freeman, who also serves as manager of the Calendar House Computer Learning Center, said right now there is a division between responsibility and authority, which handcuffs town staff from operating the center effectively.
“Currently (Calendar House Executive Director) Bob Verderame and (Southington Town Manger) Garry Brumback possess only the responsibility to effectively manage the day-to-day activities of our senior center,” Freeman said. “According to the current ordinance, sole power and authority lies with the Senior Citizen Commission.”
“The executive director and town manager hold all the responsibility of what happens, but none of the power to achieve the desired results. That isn’t a good situation.”
Residents and members of the association, which has a democratically elected board that is charged with addressing the interests of its 5,000 members in town, also questioned a change in the make-up of the commission, saying lately authority hasn’t been used appropriately.
Snow, who serves as director of the membership association, said one example included a placard that was placed for the meeting that included the association’s stance. He said it was removed at the demand of a commission member who disagreed with the association.
Richard Fortunato, who serves as a volunteer publicist for the Calendar House, did not want to place any blame, but said something has changed and it’s time to fix the problem.
“Something is broke and we have to fix it,” he said. “There is a positive change that started already with town manager taking the initiative in the community and I think he’s very capable of running the Calendar House.”
Not everyone in attendance supported the proposed changes, however, as Micalizzi and Maschi found support from residents like Norman Ouellette, who said without the hard work and authority given to the commission, he would not have the access he needs to the town’s dial-a-ride program.
Commissioners present also took exception to the ideas that there is an abuse of authority or that their involvement was limited to just 11 meetings per year.
“We meet once per month as required, but this not where the true work done,” Maschi said. “There are many subcommittees and commission members dedicate their personal time and do a lot of background work behind the scenes. It’s not just a few hours here and there, it’s a real commitment. We are honored to do it.”
After hearing arguments from both sides, Lounsbury and the council elected to table the matter and send it back to committee for further review. She said the ultimate goal remains to find the most efficient way for the Calendar house to operate.
“We especially need to focus on what should be the duties and responsibilities of the town manager and commission,” she said.
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