Windham Taxpayers Ass'n v. Board of Selectmen of Town of Windham, No. 15242

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtKATZ
Citation234 Conn. 513,662 A.2d 1281
Parties, 102 Ed. Law Rep. 1116 WINDHAM TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION et al. v. BOARD OF SELECTMEN OF THE TOWN OF WINDHAM et al.
Decision Date01 August 1995
Docket NumberNo. 15242

Page 1281

662 A.2d 1281
234 Conn. 513, 102 Ed. Law Rep. 1116
WINDHAM TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION et al.
v.
BOARD OF SELECTMEN OF THE TOWN OF WINDHAM et al.
No. 15242.
Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Argued May 26, 1995.
Decided Aug. 1, 1995.

Page 1283

[234 Conn. 514] Richard S. Cody, with whom, on the brief, was Joseph B. Mathieu, Hartford, for appellants-appellees (defendants).

Lori Welch-Rubin, New Haven, for appellees-appellants (plaintiffs).

Mary-Michelle U. Hirschoff, Bethany, filed a brief for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities as amicus curiae.

Before [234 Conn. 513] BORDEN, BERDON, NORCOTT, KATZ and SPEAR, JJ.

[234 Conn. 514] KATZ, Associate Justice.

The dispositive issue in this appeal and cross appeal is whether the defendant board of selectmen (board) 1 was required to submit a proper petition by the plaintiff Windham Taxpayers Association (association), 2 pursuant to a special town meeting, to a special[234 Conn. 515] referendum for the purpose of reconsidering an appropriation of money to construct a school. In order to consider that issue, we must address the underlying issue of whether

Page 1284

General Statutes § 7-1, 3 which requires that a town meeting be held upon petition of twenty or more qualified voters, preempts a town's charter, enacted pursuant to the Home Rule Act, 4 that vests legislative authority in a board of selectmen and delineates the limited situations requiring a town meeting. We conclude that because the procedures for reconsideration of a prior legislative act are of local concern, the charter controls the resolution of this issue and that, therefore, the board was empowered to decide whether to reconsider the appropriation.

The trial court, Foley, J., found the following relevant facts. In 1990, discussions began for the construction of a new middle school in Windham. On March 1, 1994, a town meeting was held to consider the appropriation of $24,500,000 for the design and construction of a new middle school to be located on Quarry Street [234 Conn. 516] in the Willimantic section of Windham. 5 The town decided to send this issue to a referendum vote, which, if passed, would also authorize the issuance of bonds and other obligations to help finance the construction of the school. On March 15, 1994, Windham passed this referendum by a four vote majority. Following the passage of the referendum, Windham entered into a contract with the architectural firm of Russell Gibson von Dohlen, Inc., to design and construct the school.

On March 28, 1994, 702 individuals qualified to vote in Windham presented a petition to the board pursuant to General Statutes §§ 7-1, 6 7-2, 7 and 7-7, 8 requesting [234 Conn. 517] that

Page 1285

the board call a special town meeting for the purpose of setting the time and place of a special referendum to rescind the action on the ballot question of March 15, 1994. 9 The board rejected the March 28 petition and did not call a town meeting.

[234 Conn. 518] Subsequently, on April 29, 1994, thirty-eight individuals qualified to vote in Windham presented a petition to the board requesting it to call a special town meeting to reconsider the March 28 petition for the purpose of rescinding the action on the ballot question of March 15. The board also rejected this petition.

After the board's decision to reject the March 28 referendum petition, the plaintiffs brought this action against the defendants seeking: "(1) a writ of mandamus ordering that the defendant-selectmen, forthwith set the time and place of a special referendum to rescind the action on the ballot question: 'Shall the Town of Windham appropriate $24,500,000.00 for the design and construction of a middle school to be located on Town-owned land on Quarry Street in Willimantic and authorize the issue of bonds and notes in the same amount to defray said appropriation?' of March 15, 1994; alternatively (2) a writ of mandamus ordering that the defendant-selectmen, forthwith call a special town meeting to reconsider the petition submitted to rescind the action on the ballot question: 'Shall the Town of Windham appropriate $24,500,000.00 for design and construction of a middle school to be located on Town-owned land on Quarry Street in Willimantic and authorize the issue of bonds and notes in the same amount to defray said appropriation?' of March 15, 1994 and to reconsider and vote on said petition by the legislative body. The plaintiffs further claim (3) an injunction to stop the construction and continued expenditure of funds for the proposed Windham Middle School...." 10 The trial court determined that the plaintiffs were not entitled to either mandamus or injunctive relief.

[234 Conn. 519] The trial court first determined that the plaintiffs had both voter and taxpayer standing to bring the action against the defendants. Rood and Edelman had voter standing because they were aggrieved by the board's failure to hold the requested town meeting at which they would have had the right to vote. The trial court also found that, because Rood and Edelman had suffered an

Page 1286

injury in the form of increased taxes to pay for the new school, they had taxpayer standing. Furthermore, the trial court found that the association had standing "in its representative capacity as a nonprofit corporation comprised solely of residents and taxpayers of the Town of Windham, whose organizational purpose is to promote fiscal conservatism and the power of initiative. Having organized the two petition campaigns at issue herein, and having many members [who] signed the petitions, the plaintiff Windham Taxpayers Association had a legally cognizable interest that the referendum or special town meeting be held." 11

On the merits, the trial court focused on the defendants' contention that the board was not required to submit the March 28 petition to a town meeting because such a petition did not fall within one of the four enumerated categories in Section XI-3 of the town charter, which delineates the circumstances requiring a [234 Conn. 520] town meeting. 12 The trial court disagreed with the defendants' position, concluding that these provisions of the charter were preempted by §§ 7-1, 7-2, 7-6 and 7-7 because, in the court's view, there was a conflict between the charter and the statutes. The court reasoned that state law protects the power of initiative, which cannot be destroyed by a conflicting town charter. See General Statutes §§ 7-1, 7-2, 7-6 and 7-7. The trial court stated: "Because the defendants' interpretation of the Town Charter, as read in conjunction with the Home Rule Act, removes that right of initiative by petition in virtually all situations except four, a right created by state statute, that the state has expressly bestowed on the people, and the state and federal constitutions guarantee, such interpretation cannot legally stand. By definition, the defendants' contention that, 'unless the subject matter of the petition falls within the mandatory subjects of Article XI-3 of the Windham Charter, it is up to the selectmen's [unbridled] discretion whether to warn a Special Town meeting' irreconcilably conflicts with General Statutes §§ 7-1, 7-2, 7-6 and 7-7, thus exceeding the powers allotted to a municipality.... General Statutes §§ 7-1 and 7-7 mandate that a special town meeting and referendum respectively shall be held upon a proper petition. The Charter of the Town of Windham is not in conflict with the statutes; the interpretation of the Charter presently [234 Conn. 521] being advanced by the defendants, is in conflict with the state statutes." (Citations omitted; emphasis in original.)

In considering whether to issue a writ of mandamus, the trial court examined whether the plaintiffs' petitions to the board were proper. It concluded that they were not for a proper purpose because there was no provision in either petition for the protection of the architects who had contracted with Windham to construct the new school. Thus, the court concluded: "Accordingly, based upon the facts of this case where a referendum has occurred allowing for the expenditure of public funds, and where an attempt is made to subsequently rescind the prior vote, this court holds that it is proper for the selectmen to reject a proposed initiative that fails to protect persons who have acted upon the

Page 1287

faith of the [prior] vote and fails to provide for payment of legal obligations of the [municipality] arising from contracts already made and entered into by the [municipality] prior to such rescission." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Accordingly, the trial court denied the plaintiffs' request for writs of mandamus. 13

Thereafter, the defendants appealed and the plaintiffs cross appealed to the Appellate Court. We transferred the appeal and the cross appeal to this court pursuant to Practice Book § 4023 and General Statutes § 51-199(c).

On appeal, the defendants, although agreeing with the trial court's denial of the plaintiffs' claims for relief, claim that the trial court incorrectly decided that: (1) [234 Conn. 522] General Statutes §§ 7-1, 7-2 and 7-7 required the board to hold a town meeting upon the petition of twenty or more qualified voters, notwithstanding contrary provisions in Windham's town charter; (2) the plaintiffs had standing to maintain an action for mandamus and injunctive relief; (3) the plaintiffs' action presented a justiciable controversy; and (4) the court could rely on the testimony of former town selectmen in determining whether the board was required to hold a town meeting. On their cross appeal, the plaintiffs claim that the petitions were presented for a proper purpose because the architects' interests were adequately protected by contract law and, consequently, the trial court improperly denied their request to compel the board to hold a referendum.

I

Before reaching the merits of the case, we must address the jurisdictional issues presented by this appeal....

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  • Gay and Lesbian Law Students Ass'n at University of Connecticut School of Law v. Board of Trustees, University of Connecticut, No. 15191
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 26, 1996
    ...of Health Care Facilities, Inc. v. Worrell, supra, 199 Conn. at 616, 508 A.2d 743; accord Windham Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Selectmen, 234 Conn. 513, 527, 662 A.2d 1281 The plaintiff argues that it has sustained its burden of proof and has satisfied this test. 8 The defendants challenge o......
  • Meyers v. Cornwell Quality Tools, Inc., Nos. 13783
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • April 9, 1996
    ...is that the party claiming error be aggrieved by the decision of the trial court....' " Windham Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Selectmen, 234 Conn. 513, 522, 662 A.2d 1281 (1995), quoting Milford v. Local 1566, 200 Conn. 91, 95-96, 510 A.2d 177 (1986); see Practice Book § 4000. Pursuant to our......
  • IN RE ALLISON, No. 17288.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 1, 2005
    ...affected by the decision." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Windham Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Selectmen, 234 Conn. 513, 522-23, 662 A.2d 1281 (1995); see also General Statutes § 52-263.merits of both counts, that plaintiff reasonably could not be said to have been pr......
  • Ganim v. Smith & Wesson Corp., (SC 16465)
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • October 9, 2001
    ...the state or that are necessary for it to discharge its duties and carry out its purposes. Windham Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Selectmen, 234 Conn. 513, 529, 662 A. 2d 1281 In light of these principles, we cannot read the general provisions of the Home Rule Act on which the plaintiffs rely ......
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28 cases
  • Gay and Lesbian Law Students Ass'n at University of Connecticut School of Law v. Board of Trustees, University of Connecticut, No. 15191
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 26, 1996
    ...of Health Care Facilities, Inc. v. Worrell, supra, 199 Conn. at 616, 508 A.2d 743; accord Windham Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Selectmen, 234 Conn. 513, 527, 662 A.2d 1281 The plaintiff argues that it has sustained its burden of proof and has satisfied this test. 8 The defendants challenge o......
  • Meyers v. Cornwell Quality Tools, Inc., Nos. 13783
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • April 9, 1996
    ...that the party claiming error be aggrieved by the decision of the trial court....' " Windham Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Selectmen, 234 Conn. 513, 522, 662 A.2d 1281 (1995), quoting Milford v. Local 1566, 200 Conn. 91, 95-96, 510 A.2d 177 (1986); see Practice Book § 4000. Pursuant to o......
  • IN RE ALLISON, No. 17288.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 1, 2005
    ...affected by the decision." (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Windham Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Selectmen, 234 Conn. 513, 522-23, 662 A.2d 1281 (1995); see also General Statutes § 52-263.merits of both counts, that plaintiff reasonably could not be said to have be......
  • Ganim v. Smith & Wesson Corp., (SC 16465)
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • October 9, 2001
    ...the state or that are necessary for it to discharge its duties and carry out its purposes. Windham Taxpayers Assn. v. Board of Selectmen, 234 Conn. 513, 529, 662 A. 2d 1281 In light of these principles, we cannot read the general provisions of the Home Rule Act on which the plaintiffs rely ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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