Charter reform decision uncertain

The outcome of a referendum on revisions to New Haven’s charter remained undecided early this morning, as city elections officials postponed the tallying of results until midday today.

If approved, the referendum would change several aspects of city government, including an increase in the terms of the mayor, the Board of Aldermen, and the city clerk from two years to four.

In addition to the term extensions, the revision would change the system of mayoral succession, alter the system for appointments and promotions within the civil service, and give the mayor express authority to issue executive orders. Appointed by the Board of Aldermen in April, a 15-member Charter Revision Commission proposed the revisions. If the revisions are not approved, the charter’s language may remain unchanged for up to 10 years, when another review of the charter is mandated.

Before the election, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said the two-year term hinders the aldermen’s work and said he was confident Ward 1 would approve the referendum.

“This endless two-year campaign cycle we go through undermines the government,” Healey said. “People understand the inherent deficiencies in a two-year system.”

Shonu Gandhi ’03, the Ward 1 Democratic co-chairwoman, echoed Healey’s sentiments. She said the two year term places too great an emphasis on campaigning and limits the mayor’s ability to build coalitions outside of the city.

“New Haven has to have a system of government that empowers the city’s executive,” Gandhi said. “I think having a two-year term impedes that process.”

Even some of the aldermen who approved of the referendum, however, said it had its flaws.

“I don’t think this charter reform is perfect,” Healey said. “I don’t particularly feel that a four-year aldermanic term is going to serve anyone all that well.”

Though the results of the referendum vote had not yet been announced, supporters of the referendum at the victory celebration for Rosa DeLauro said they were not optimistic about its chances of success. Ward 3 Alderman Juan Candelaria said he was disappointed the referendum was unlikely to pass.

“I think if it would have been approved it would have given the elected officials the opportunity to serve their constituents better,” Candelaria said.

Ward 7 Alderwoman Dolores Colon said she was surprised and disappointed by early predictions.

“It’s a really strong statement that people really wanted the status quo,” Colon said. “I thought [the referendum] would be a chance to make this town less politically polarized.”

Colon also said she thinks the shorter term interferes with effective leadership.

“It’s a shame because I don’t want to run every two years,” Colon said.

Some of the aldermen said they were not confident in the way the referendum was presented to the public. Colon said she regretted that voters had only been able to vote on the revisions as a whole, rather than individually. In September, the Board of Aldermen voted to group all of the potential charter changes into one question.

Candelaria said he thought educating the public about the potential reforms might have changed the vote.

“They should have public hearings so that constituents understand what was [in the referendum],” Candelaria said.

The area around Dwight Hall, where Ward 1 voted, displayed signs from both sides of the revision issue. Supporters of the referendum hung signs saying “Vote Yes! On Charter Reform.” Opponents of the revision placed signs saying, “Save Your New Haven Firefighters. Vote No on Charter Changes,” referring to provisions of the referendum that would require the chief of the fire department to hold a bachelor’s degree and include potential candidates from other cities when hiring new fire chiefs.

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