For the first time in over a decade, New Haven voters approved revisions to the city’s charter on Tuesday.
The ballot split revisions to the charter — the city’s guiding document — into two options. The first ballot option, which 82 percent of voters supported, shifts the Board of Education from being entirely appointed by the mayor to a “hybrid” model composed of two elected members, two non-voting student members, four appointed members and the mayor.
The second, which passed by a margin of over 40 percent, included 15 changes that vary in importance, from employing the gender-neutral “alder” term for the city council members to allowing noncitizens to sit on city boards and commissions. The revisions to the Board of Education will come into effect Jan. 1, 2016.
“Both questions seemed to have gotten a lot of support,” mayor-elect Toni Harp ARC ’78 said. Before results were tallied, she said she would have been “shocked” if either measure did not pass.
Re-elected Ward 1 Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson ’12 said New Haven had the only BOE in the state purely appointed by the mayor.
She also said that including student voice on the Board of Education was another reason she supported the measure. Eidelson added that she worked with students to craft a testimony in favor of this change.
Re-elected Ward 22 Alderwoman Jeanette Morrison said that she believed the changes to the Board of Education will give residents of New Haven a greater voice in the future of education.
“One person shouldn’t have so much power,” Morrison said, “We need more checks and balances.”
Fifteen other changes, both large and small, fall under the heading of the second ballot option. The most serious change was an alteration of the balance of power in the city, granting the BOA more power by requiring certain positions, such as those on boards and commissions, to receive the approval of the Board of Aldermen. Other notable features include changed educational standards for department heads, formation of a police-oversight Civilian Review Board, enacting an additional civil service exam for New Haven residents and the removal of the mayor from the Board of Zoning Appeals. But critics of the second referendum challenged the packaging of multiple changes under one yes-no ballot option. Defeated Ward 1 aldermanic candidate Paul Chandler ’14 said that he supported certain changes but he was hesitant about increasing the BOA’s power over mayoral appointments.
Some voters who supported both referenda pointed to the federal government’s model of distributing power across three branches.
Just as presidential appointments must be approved, mayoral appointments should be checked at the local level, said Nicholas Kelly ’17, who voted for the referenda.
Chandler proposed that the city should revise the charter more frequently, vote on the changes individually and educate more voters on the individual proposals.
Many students interviewed outside the voting location agreed they had not been adequately educated on the charter revisions.
“I didn’t even know that the ballot measures were on there,” Eddy Wang ’16 said. “I think they could’ve done a better job reminding me of it.”
The last attempted charter revision narrowly failed in 2002.