Proposed charter revision sparks debate as election approaches
The new proposed charter, which would increase the term length of elected officials among other provisions, has ignited opposition from Republican officials.
Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer
As the Nov. 7 municipal election approaches, campaigning for a proposed charter revision has intensified among city officials, largely along partisan lines.
If approved by voters, the charter will increase the term length of elected officials from two to four years, give the Board of Alders more power to restructure commissions and boards and increase the annual stipend for alders from $2,000 to $5,000. While Democratic elected officials in the city expressed support for the proposed changes, New Haven Republicans and two mayoral challengers urged New Haveners to vote against the proposed charter revision in the upcoming election.
“Some parts of the charter revision may be beneficial to change, yet there are things that are not beneficial to change, that not everyone agrees with,” said Lisa Milone, a Republican alder candidate in the Morris Cove neighborhood. “The biggest challenge is that they want everything in one question to make it simple yes or no. It was just an attempt to get things passed without discussion, which is typically what happens in New Haven.”
Tom Goldenberg, a mayoral challenger who will appear on both Republican and Independent Party ballots in the Nov. 7 election, said that he will be voting against the proposed charter during last week’s mayoral debate.
While he said that he thinks establishing a four-year mayoral term is “a very reasonable thing to ask for,” he said he believes extending terms for alders will remove accountability — especially given that some alders have run uncontested, and, he said, many alders do not regularly attend required meetings.
Like Goldenberg, Milone also opposed the campaign to extend terms for alders, saying that longer terms might make it easier for alders to shirk their responsibilities.
“We have 30 alders on the board. Half of them don’t show up for their meetings as it is,” Milone said.
John Carlson, chair of the New Haven Republican Town Committee, told the News he opposes the proposed increase for alders’ compensation, and asked where the funding would come from.
Carlson also claimed that it is not only Republicans who oppose the charter revision — he said that more than 50 Democrats requested lawn signs from the RTC opposing the charter revision.
Another point of contention among city officials is the decision to include these proposed changes under a single question on the voting ballot.
Richard Furlow, the Board of Alders’ majority leader who also worked on drafting the charter revision, told the News that no one opposed putting all the changes under one question at the charter revision public hearings. However, Goldenberg has since framed the issue as a “power grab.”
“It’s condescending to the voters to think that this commission needs to make it simple for them and not have to separate questions,” Goldenberg said at the mayoral debate. “I would vote for four years for mayor, but I would not vote four years for alder, and I think the voters should make that decision. Not the commission,” he added.
Furlow told the News he questions why other officials were so concerned about the decision to include the charter’s various provisions under one question on the ballot. He said that the decision to consolidate all the changes merely reflects trends in voting patterns and serves as a more cohesive way to organize ballots.
Including all charter provisions under one question on the ballot is also done in other Connecticut cities like Hartford and Stamford, where residents will vote on a charter revision this year. Previous charter change proposals have also been lumped under one question in New Haven.
Mayor Justin Elicker has argued that the mayoral term should increase to four years because two-year terms decrease mayoral productivity by increasing the amount of time spent campaigning. However, Milone said she found this assertion to be unconvincing.
“If you’re doing a great job as mayor, you don’t really have to campaign,” Milone said.
Elected officials, including state Sen. Martin M. Looney, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Rep. Rosa DeLauro and city Democrats, gathered last Saturday to endorse Democratic candidates and urge people to vote yes on the charter revision question.
At the rally, Alder Furlow dismissed the criticism of extending terms for alders, saying that only four out of 30 alders do not show up to meetings regularly, with two more on medical leave, who he said still do work as alders. Furlow called on New Haveners to vote yes on the charter question to bring the city’s constitution “into [the] 21st century.”
Elicker listed other Connecticut cities, including Hartford, Waterbury, Stamford, Hamden and Bridgeport, all of which have four-year terms for mayors. However, only Hartford and Stamford have four-year local legislative terms.
“[The Republican Party is] not interested in governing in Washington, and is not particularly interested in an efficient government in New Haven,” Elicker charged. “We need to get the word out and educate voters about what is on the ballot.”
Rep. DeLauro, who came to the rally from Washington, D.C. shortly after the House of Representatives elected its speaker, following three weeks of legislative paralysis, also lamented Republicans as unable to govern.
The charter also includes a clause that gives the mayor the authority to eliminate permanent terms among members of the Parks Commission.
David Belowsky, one of the three permanent members of the Parks Commission has actively campaigned against the proposed charter, and said that the permanent terms establish an important feeling of camaraderie among workers.
“You have a sense of the people working there. There’s no replacement for the commissioners,” he said.
Belowsky said he believes that if the revision passes, the Mayor might eliminate the permanency of the commissioners. While he speculated that the city might let commissioners go to term until further notice, he also highlighted the possibility of shortening the park commissioner term to two years, which is the norm among other cities.
Belowsky also said that Parks commissioners are not paid for their work, rendering their service a “labor of love.” Belowsky added that commissioners’ lifelong terms are not signed arbitrarily.
“You have to show some … achievements to get to be a permanent member,” Belowsky said. “The other two permanent members appointed me when one of the permanent members passed away.”
Last week’s mayoral debate took place Oct. 24.