NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Common Council members on Tuesday gave its new charter revision commission – yes, they formed one – an extra week to come back with a first draft this spring.
The Commission, headed by Attorney Bill Fitzgerald, will have until April 5 to deliberate on possible changes on Norwalk’s charter and submit its proposals instead of the March 22 deadline written in the original charter-forming resolution. Although the Council provided a blueprint of expectations, it’s up to the Commission to decide what it feels is important to change in the charter, Mayor Harry Rilling said.
“They can open up any part of the charter that they so choose. Whatever recommendations that they bring to the Council will be voted on individually. It’s not voted on as a package,” Rilling said, in response to questions from Councilman Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large).
The goal is to get the charter revision proposal onto the ballot for the fall election.
The Commission will start “immediately,” Fitzgerald said afterward, promising at least two public hearings as part of the process.
“I really look forward to that. I think that is probably the most important and productive thing we will be doing, listening to the citizens of Norwalk,” Fitzgerald said. “… Their input is extremely valuable.”
The Council laid out recommendations that include lengthening the mayoral term to four years with a two-term limit, and investigating the possibility of lengthening Council terms to four years, as well as the term of the town clerk and “other city officials.”
“Our goal there was to provide the Commission with the most flexibility… on these issues. We understand you could discuss these issues forever and still not come to a conclusion, so we are suggesting they investigate the possibility, look into these and come up with a recommendation that we can either live with or we can’t live with,” Council President Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said.
The parameters are based on “inherited” ideas, Kimmel said, referring to discussions made in the last Council term.
“Our goal is to see if we can finish up our end of it by July 1, before the summer. We would rather not be doing this in the middle of the summer when people are on vacation,” Kimmel said, explaining that it’s difficult to get a quorum together then.
Councilman Michael Corsello (D-At Large) suggested moving the deadline. March 22 is the date of a Council meeting, and waiting an extra week wouldn’t make any difference in the time Council members could consider the proposal, Rilling said. The amendment passed unanimously.
Kimmel mentioned that there are other ideas floating around.
“We are committed to looking at the possibility of perhaps another charter revision next year, after we are done with this one,” Kimmel said. “Perhaps in the early fall we will discuss this again.”
Councilwoman Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B) said she was very interested in “additional items” being looked at.
“There are other ideas out there that really cut to the meat of some of the issues here in the city,” Bowman said. “I think that whether it be now or later, we owe it to the citizens to take a look at it. I know some folks are interested in Planning and Zoning being restructured, Board of Education being restructured, change the Police Commission or a civilian review board. Something I am interested in looking at is whether Redevelopment serves us best as the affordable housing agency, looking into whether or not Redevelopment being charged with being the development agency and the affordable housing agency is a conflict.”
Councilman Steve Serasis (D-District A) spent about seven minutes questioning the process, ascertaining his rights as a Norwalk citizen and Council member to make suggestions to the Commission. He was told that he could address the Commission, as any other Norwalker would, and if he had ideas other than what is brought forward he could introduce them as an amendment when the Council votes on it.
Serasis said after the meeting that he does not attend the Democratic caucus meetings, and he didn’t want to share his reasons.
The resulting resolution passed 14-0, with Councilman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) absent. There was only one dissenting voice.
“I was fully prepared to vote no on this because I personally don’t see something in here that is very pressing and the city needs,” Bonenfant said. “However, I think I might be the only one so in the spirit of camaraderie, bipartisanship or whatever you want to call it, I guess in the end we’ll let the people decide.”
“I will be reaching out to my colleagues to set up a meeting hopefully at the beginning of next week,” Fitzgerald said, after the meeting.
He wasn’t sure if Norwalkers would be able to submit written opinions to the Commission, suggesting that he would look back at what was done in 2000, when he was chairman of a Board of Education charter revision commission.
He doesn’t yet have an opinion on the recommendations laid out by the Council, he said, as he hadn’t been provided with the resolution prior to the meeting.
“I’m going to read it and I certainly am approaching this with understanding what we are being asked to do, but also understanding that there’s a great deal of work, research that will be required of the law, research of what other communities are doing. Until that’s done, I really don’t have an opinion,” Fitzgerald said.
The Commission has 11 weeks.
“I think this is a talented group of folks I think that we will be fine,” Fitzgerald said.
Other Commission members are Steven Keough, Yvonne Rodriguez, Michael Witherspoon, Glenn Iannaccone, Jerry Petrini and Mary Roman.
“I am just very honored and excited to be part of the commission,” Fitzgerald said. “I think any time you are asked to consider the amendment of a charter or constitution that it’s very, very serious, there a great deal of responsibility that comes with it. My family has been in Norwalk since 1880 and I am delighted to serve Norwalk however I can.”