Update, 3:58 p.m.:
"These petitions represent a non-partisan, grassroots effort that has taken place over the past week," Kathy Finnegan, one of the organizers of the effort, wrote in an email. "The petitioners have sincere concerns about the proposed 'shuffle' project and the $6.9 million bond approved by the RTM last week."
"Over 950 signatures have been collected from Darien citizens who are concerned that this projected has not been fully vetted or justified," she added.
Update, 3:23 p.m.:
Shuffle opponents have turned in 73 petition sheets bearing about 970 signatures, according to an estimate provided by organizers to the Town Clerk — well above the roughly 630 required in order to trigger a town-wide referendum.
If the signatures are verified — a process that won't begin until next week — the Board of Selectmen will be obligated to schedule a referendum "as soon as practicable."
According to First Selectman-elect Jayme Stevenson, that process has historically resulted in a vote about one month after a successful petition is filed, potentially setting a referendum in this case for mid-December.
Stevenson, outgoing First Selectman Dave Campbell, and RTM Moderator Karen Armour joined Town Clerk Donna Rajczewski in the lobby of an otherwise empty Town Hall Friday, where they looked over some of the petition sheets.
"I am obviously very disappointed to know that it looks like potentially they have enough signatures to move the referendum vote forward, but I am eager to now spend the time between now and the vote to more fully educate the people," Stevenson said. "I have every confidence that upon the vote, it will just be a third affirmation that this is a very good project, and it will move forward."
In order for the referendum to overrule the RTM's funding of the $6.979 million project, a majority of participants totaling at least 25% of registered voters (or about 3,100 people) will have to vote "no."
The last referendum in Darien came in Dec. 2001, when residents affirmed the RTM's decision to fund the reconstruction of , 4,335 votes to 2,539. Ten weeks prior to that, voters overruled a $26.7 million appropriation to purchase the property now occupied by Avalon Darien, 2,505 votes to 3,207.
may be closed Friday in observance of Veterans Day, but one office — the — is set to hold special business hours.
That's because Friday falls ten days after a pivotal decision by the Representative Town Meeting and bond issue for town's pending facilities shuffle.
The 58-28 vote was the last major approval by a town body needed for the Republican-led plan, which would see the 's offices shifted to the old library at 35 Leroy Ave. and the fraying given a new home at a renovated annex (dubbed the Mather Community Center).
But since last week, a group of opponents to the project on the RTM's action. In order to trigger such a vote, the town clerk must, within ten days, receive petitions signed by at least five percent of registered voters as of the last municipal election (or about 630 people).
If the petition effort is successful, the Board of Selectmen will be obligated to organize a special electors' meeting "as soon as practicable." A majority of referendum participants totaling at least 25% of registered voters (or about 3,100 people) would then have to vote "no" in order to overrule the RTM.
As of early Thursday evening, organizer Kathy Finnegan said she wasn't sure how many signatures had been collected but that she and other petition supporters would work to tally the names Thursday night and Friday morning.
"I know we're not making some people happy that we're planning to file tomorrow," Finnegan said, adding that several opponents of the petition had asked organizers to withdraw their efforts on Thursday.
Finnegan said that the breakdown of residents who had signed on was "not coming back to us along party lines."
According to the Town Clerk's Office, its doors will stay open from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday to accept petitions, but staff will not verify signers' names until later.
If a referendum is triggered, it would be the first in Darien since Dec. 2001, when residents affirmed the RTM's decision to fund the reconstruction of Darien High School, 4,335 votes to 2,539. Ten weeks before that, voters overruled a $26.7 million appropriation to purchase the property now occupied by Avalon Darien, 2,505 votes to 3,207.
According to First Selectman-elect Jayme Stevenson, past referenda suggest that it would take about a month after a successful petition effort to hold a vote.
If a referendum is triggered but fails to overrule the RTM's decision, Stevenson said it would "definitely delay the [shuffle] process by approximately a month."
The current timetable calls for renovations at 35 Leroy to finish in time for the Board of Education to relocate by late summer 2012.
"I'm still holding out hope that even with a month delay, the board of ed could be moved into that space by the end of the summer," Stevenson said. But, she noted, "Those will be conversations that we'll have to have with the architects in the coming weeks."
Stevenson said she had left a voicemail with Finnegan on Friday acknowledging that, while there had been "some pretty heated dialogue" around the petition effort, she respected the organizers' right to pursue a referendum.
Still, Stevenson said, "My sincere hope is that they don't get enough signatures by tomorrow afternoon."