Following hearings, charter revision moves forward

The Charter Revision Commission will submit its proposals by May 13.
The Charter Revision Commission will submit its proposals by May 13. Photo by Patrick Casey.

New Haven’s Charter Revision Commission met Tuesday night for the first time since concluding four public hearings and one briefing from city administration.

The evening meeting lasted about an hour and a half and focused mostly on planning the next stages of the commission’s work. As New Haven is required by law to consider revisions to its charter every 10 years, the commission, which was selected by the Board of Aldermen last year, must submit its recommendations to the Board of Alderman by May 13. The Board will then have the final say in drafting any revisions, which will have to be approved by city-wide referendum in the fall.

Ward 8 Alderman and commission Chair Michael Smart announced the creation of three working groups, each of which will examine a different set of issues related to charter reform. Commission members Melissa Mason, Elizabeth Torres and Joelle Fishman will each chair a working group.

Some of the potential changes that have attracted the most attention so far include enshrining the Civilian Review Board in the charter and enhancing its powers to investigate and punish police misconduct, as well as establishing elections for positions on the Board of Education, which is currently chosen entirely by mayoral appointment.

New Haven Public School District Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 attended the meeting as an observer. He briefed the commission last week as a representative of the mayor’s office, and he encouraged members to keep the keep the appointed Board of Education. By moving to an elected board, he said, the commission would be introducing “interest-based politics” into the city’s education system, adding that an elected school board would deter qualified candidates and imperil New Haven’s education reform agenda.

Citywide Youth Coalition Director Rachel Heerema attended the meeting as well. Her organization is not taking an opinion on whether to select the Board of Education by election or mayoral appointment, but it does support expanding the Board of Education to include student representation. She said it is unclear, however, if state law would allow a student representative on the board to vote.

“If at all possible, we seek full voting rights for the students. If that’s not possible, then we seek for them to have an advisory role,” Heerema said.

While Harries said that the administration is open to non-voting student involvement on the Board, he claimed that the Board is already very open to input.

“[The Board of Education has] meetings every two weeks,” he said. “People don’t come. It’s not a question of lack of access or lack of opportunity for input.”

City corporation counsel Victor Bolden, who also briefed the Commission last week, spoke about the administration’s recommendation to not enshrine the Civilian Review Board in the charter. Adding too much to the charter, Bolden explained, limits citizens’ ability to amend policies and city government in the future.

Smart said that every commission meeting will be public, including working group meetings.

“We’re going to continue to make sure that this is an open process,” he said. “We’re taking our roles very seriously.”

The full commission’s next officially scheduled meeting is on April 9. It may decide, however, to schedule an additional full meeting on March 21 as well.

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