Bipartisan RTM vote changes Branford tax collector’s position from elected to appointed

Peter Hentschel (D, District 2), a member of the Rules and Ordinances Committee, discussed his support for the ordinance during the September 15 Representative Town Meeting (RTM) meeting. Image capture from BCTV/Facebook

With a unanimous vote on September 15, the Representative Town of Branford (RTM) meeting approved an ordinance that will reset the position of City Hall Tax Collector from an elected two-year term to an elected four years made by the Board of Voters (BOS).

The city’s current tax collector, Robert Imperato (R), was elected to the post for a two-year term in 2021 and will continue in the position until the term expires with municipal elections in November. 2023. After that, a tax collector will be appointed by the BOS unanimously for a term of four years.

The order gives the appointed tax collector four years from appointment to become certified by the State of Connecticut to perform all required duties and remain certified for the duration of the term.

In public meetings this summer, the RTM’s Rules and Orders Committee (R&O) discussed and reworked the wording of the proposed ordinance, which was later approved by the city attorney. The bipartisan committee voted unanimously to recommend the draft ordinance for approval by the entire RTM.

R&O Chairman Peter Black (R, District 3) gave special thanks to committee member Peter Hentschel (D, District 2) for his help in crafting the proposed ordinance.

Before seeking a roll-call vote on the issue on Sept. 15, RTM Moderator Dennis Flanigan (R, District 5) read a letter from RTM Minority Leader Tracy Everson (D, District 5). Everson’s letter cited concerns about whether the RTM or the public had had enough time to review the wording of the order. He noted that the proposed order was provided to RTM members on September 8. In the interest of “transparency and good government,” Everson asked that the case be referred to R&O to allow for a public hearing.

Flanigan noted that the moderator does not have the authority to send stuff back to the committee.

Stating that she was not opposed to the ordinance but felt more time was needed for it to be properly posted for public review and comment, Rep. Linda Erlanger (D, District 3) then offered to table the point at the next meeting of the RTM. The motion was not given a second and failed.

In a discussion before taking a roll-call vote on the item, Black noted that the wording of the order before the group that evening had been sent to the entire RTM in a timely manner. Black also noted that members of the public had had time to weigh in on the matter as it was discussed and formed at past public R&R committee meetings.

“The final version of the committee’s order was reached after numerous meetings, all of which were open to the public,” Black said, while noting that city staff, elected officials and members of the RTM participated in those meetings. .

The final language of the committee’s order was then sent to the city attorney for review, he said.

“He came back at the end of the summer from her with her endorsement,” Black said.

Black said the wording of the order was then circulated, as needed, to all RTM members at least five days before the September 15 meeting; and was posted to the public at least 24 hours before the meeting with the agenda, meeting the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

Black said the R&O committee “…diligently worked on this and made a number of changes…I think we have a good product [it’s] a good compromise. It removes what should be a professional position from being a popularity contest, as too many elections are.

In his remarks to the full gtr on September 15, Hentschel spoke in favor of the order. He said the R&O committee spent a lot of time developing it as a “great bipartisan effort.” Hentschel said he also felt the result “…reflects the prevailing sentiment in the community.”

“The position is not inherently a political position. State law clearly defines roles and responsibilities,” Hentschel said. “I think it’s a great change for the city. I think this is going to be a big change for the city. For the general public, if they have not read the details of this order, it requires a unanimous vote by the selectman, which was put in place specifically to avoid the nomination process being political.

RTM Majority Leader Ray Ingraham (R, District 5) said he stood up in support of ‘…this outstanding order and the non-partisan way in which it has been handled’, praising Black and Hentschel for their work.

“The product we have at the end, I think, is very good,” Ingraham said.

The RTM then voted, 25-0, to approve the ordinance; with Everson noting that his vote was “…reluctantly, yes.” For his part, RTM member George Wells (R, District 3) noted that his vote was “…yes, enthusiastically.”

The full decree can be viewed here.

Reporter’s Note: Rep. Everson’s quote “…reluctantly, yes” was incorrectly attributed to Rep. Erlanger when this story first ran on September 15. The error has been corrected with this updated story.

Esther L. Steinbach