Charter revision groups issue recommendations

The charter commission will now draft final recommendations to send to the Board of Aldermen.
The charter commission will now draft final recommendations to send to the Board of Aldermen. Photo by Diana Li.

New Haven’s once-a-decade charter revision commission entered the next stage of updating the city’s constitution on Tuesday.

After splitting into three working groups to develop potential changes to the charter, commission members reconvened to share each group’s recommendations, which included increasing term lengths for elected officials, adding elected members to the Board of Education and institutionalizing the Civilian Review Board. The commission must now send its final recommendations to the Board of Aldermen by May for approval before the measures head to the November ballot for a city vote.

Group B recommended increasing office terms for mayor, city clerk and aldermen from two to four years, to be effective Jan. 1, 2016.

“Two years doesn’t seem to be a long enough time, and it actually does take that long to get yourself oriented and to learn these positions,” commission member Elizabeth Torres said. “We thought that if elections happened every two years, then people would be campaigning more often. We also learned that we can save the city some money by doing fewer elections — it’s something like $100,000 every few years.”

Torres said Group B also suggested increasing the salary of aldermen, though the group could not reach an agreement for a formula to determine the specific amount. Commission member and Community Foundation for Greater New Haven President Will Ginbserg said the current stipend for aldermen is “inadequate” given the work they do, and the group recommended that the entire commission discuss the issue further.

Group A suggested instituting a hybrid Board of Education, Melissa Mason said. Currently, all positions on the board are appointed by the mayor, who also sits on the board. In the new plan, the board would include two elected members in addition to five members appointed by the mayor. Additionally, the group recommended including two nonvoting student members on the Board of Education.

Commision member Joelle Fishman presented Group C’s recommendations, which included establishing the Civilian Review Board, which provides oversight of police complaints, within the charter.

“We examined the testimonies of people about the Civilian Review Board and in doing so, we learned about many concerns that are beyond the scope of this charter,” Fishman said. “But we have notes and we are going to provide them to the Board of Aldermen for further examination.”

Fishman added that the group decided that the Board of Aldermen should handle changes to the Democracy Fund instead of enshrining the insitituion within the charter. She said that while the Fund is “important,” it is still in its development stage and should thus be handled by the Board.

Commission members from Group B recommended implementing gender-neutral language in the charter, changing “alderman” to “alder” throughout the document, an idea about which Ward 9 Jessica Holmes and Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04 have testified at public hearings in the charter revision process. Group A also concluded that the Elm City should continue with its structure of 30 aldermen and wards, explaining that individuals who testified emphasized the importance of having a high alderman-resident ratio.

After the commission sends its final recommendations to the Board of Aldermen, the Board will have a period of 60 days to review the recommendations and make its own suggestions based on the draft. The Board will ultimately decide what suggestions head to the ballot for voters to decide in November.

The charter revision commission was established in November of last year.

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