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Monday, August 19 News

Moderator reverses decision, allows police commission ordinance to be heard

WESTPORT — The Representative Town Meeting moderator has reversed her decision to withhold a proposed ordinance from an upcoming meeting, after several members argued town law was being violated.

Velma Heller announced Wednesday she would now place Westporter Jason Stiber’s request to create a police commission on the next agenda.

“In view of the controversy that has arisen and in the interest of moving forward, this item will be placed on the July 16th agenda as a first reading and follow the normal ordinance review process including referral to the RTM Ordinance and Public Protection committees,” she said in an email to members.

Earlier this week, Heller said she initially denied adding it to the agenda after receiving the legal opinion of town counsel Ira Bloom.

“I received a memo from Ira that the request was inconsistent with the Town Charter,” she said.

But Stiber claimed he did everything by the book — he inquired about the petition process, collected 105 signatures in favor of creating a civilian review board for police, and submitted them on time to be included on the next agenda.

Despite exceeding the 20 signatures required to be considered, the ordinance was not originally scheduled for the RTM’s July meeting.

Though admitting town law required her to include such items on the agenda, Heller said “there has been past practice that would allow for discretion by the moderator if, in fact, you have a proposal that is not permitted by the town charter or by the authority of the RTM.”

RTM member Kris Hamlin, however, argued Heller’s interpretation was incorrect.

“The language of the charter says ‘shall,’ which under the law makes the act mandatory, not permissive,” she said. Other members expressed similar views.

Now that the agenda item has been added, however, Heller said she hopes “some level of normalcy and civility may be restored.”

A first reading of the police commission ordinance is scheduled for the RTM’s July 16 meeting.

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com

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