Editor’s note: This is the fourth in an ongoing series exploring proposed changes to the town’s charter that will appear on November’s ballot. As an aid to voters, New Canaan News will provide a series of in-depth stories breaking down each of the items that will appear on the ballot.

Past stories in the series: “The ballot measures,” “A question of numbers,” and “Dilemma on renters.”

NEW CANAAN — Come November’s election, town voters will decide whether four town commissions/committees, the Ethics Board and the town attorney should be added to the Town Charter.

Each of the six entities — including the Audit Committee, the Conservation Commission, the Health and Human Services Commission and Inland Wetlands Commission — are currently regulated in town law by ordinance or bylaw.

But what do the commissions, board and attorney stand to gain by being added to the charter? And what are the perceived risks of their inclusion in the charter?

When it comes to the downsides, town lawmakers can sometimes be handcuffed by including too much in the charter, according to Town Council Chairman Bill Walbert, and even chartered commissions can, at times, suffer from the rigidness of the written law.

“We can debate whether being in the charter is good or bad. The reality is, anything in the charter is tough to change. So the less you put in the charter, the better off you are in the long run,” Walbert said. “It’s better to mention it in the charter, that way it gets protected, but don’t put all the rules in the charter. Keep those as bylaws and ordinances, so that you can be nimble.”

On the other hand, Gary Rose, chair of the department of government, politics and global studies at Sacred Heart University, believes individual commissions have little to lose from inclusion in a charter.

“If a commission becomes formerly part of the charter, it legitimizes them and strengthens their hand,” Rose said.

Walbert is of the opposite opinion. He said he feared including the Conservation Commission, for example, which currently operates under a generously written ordinance. Writing it into the charter could reduce its ability to act, he cautioned.

Conservation Commission Chair Cam Hutchins, however, has come out in favor of his commission’s inclusion in the charter. By plainly wording a line in the charter that affirms the commission’s existence and then refers to the already written ordinance regarding functionality, problems like the one Walbert described could be avoided, Hutchins explained.

Furthermore, Hutchins said the commission’s inclusion in the charter would be a show of faith on behalf of the town.

“I like the recommendation to make the Conservation Commission a chartered organization, since it shows the town is committed to what we do,” he said. “By moving Conservation from an ordinance commission to a charter commission, we can operate with consistent, reliable support from the town.”

Along the same lines, at a May meeting of the Town Council at which the proposed charter changes took center stage, Charter Revision Commission Chair Dave Hunt suggested that ultimately the desire to be included in the Town Charter has to do with permanence.

“The Town Council can change things if they’re not in the charter. They can’t change things if they’re in the charter,” he said.

Kathleen Corbet, a member of Town Council and the Charter Revision Commission, said that in the opinion of the CRC, whether or not a commission should be included in the charter comes down to a specific set of criteria: Is the commission well-established? Does it have an individual as part of its management team serving in town government? Will it come before the Town Council and Board of Finance with budget items each year? If the answer to all three questions were yes, then it should be written into the charter, Corbet explained.

For Walbert, when considering each of the six entities up for chartered status, less is more.

“The less they are defined in the charter, the better it is for the government to make changes and be responsive to the changing needs of the community,” Walbert said. ”We’re very cognizant of not tying ourselves down by putting too much detail in the charter for these commissions.”

Still, according to Rose, high-functioning commissions within a town can be empowered by becoming chartered. “By including commissions, I would say that it gives small action groups and small interest groups within town leverage in New Canaan politics,” Rose said.

But, he added, Walbert’s fear is not unfounded. “Their inclusion could also result in more politics and more of a tug of war in government,” Rose said.

justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1