NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk leaders were expecting the city’s neighborhood associations to hold meetings on the proposed charter revision, Common Council President Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said Wednesday.
Kimmel also said that after the election, the Council will look into forming a new Charter Revision Commission.
Norwalk First, a Political Action Committee (PAC), is among those complaining that the city did not follow through with promises last May to get the word out on the four charter revision questions that will be on the ballot Tuesday.
Kimmel said there were four public hearings and public participation at two or three Council meetings.
“I think what we might have done a better job doing perhaps is directing people to the city’s website,” Kimmel said, when asked about these complaints. “I am not quite sure what else we could have had. We were assuming that there would be community meetings throughout the city and stuff like that. The Commission members were ready to go. None of that really materialized. There’s been some charter revisions in the past where it’s been much less (education) than even this. It’s an interesting question: What exactly should we have done differently? One thing I can think of is possibly direct people to the city’s website because all you needed to do is look at the first 10 pages of the Commission’s report, where it is all laid out.”
The West Norwalk Association recently held a forum on the proposed revisions, but that was the only one, Kimmel said.
“That’s the issue,” he said, adding, “I think by Tuesday voters will be aware, will be educated.”
He continued, “The issue is, who is calling for educational effort and what do they mean by that? Do they mean another debate? What exactly is meant by education? Or is it the same folks who say no to everything and they want to continue to debate? Or do they want everything laid out, what the options are, and things like that? Because that has been on the website. We had, like I said, four public hearings and participation. So the question is, who is calling for more education and why? Do they perceive more education as a chance for them to debate again?”
He continued, “When I announced that the second public hearing that the Council was going to hold I would focus on folks who had not spoken at the first one, there were some people who were very anxious,” Kimmel said. “They came and they asked me if they would be allowed to speak a second time. I said of course, but I was surprised, it was exactly what we predicted. If we had 10 public hearings they would have spoke 10 times, said the same thing 10 times and never would have been satisfied.”
NancyOnNorwalk sent an email to Norwalk First, asking what the PAC means by education and what the city should have done differently. The email prompted a wordless reply, with several documents attached.
One shows that the New Hartford Board of Selectmen held a town meeting in March to discuss a referendum up for a vote one week later.
The other is a State of Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission document, Prohibition on Expenditure of Public Funds Relating to Referenda.
“Historically, an ‘explanatory text’ has been the exclusive method by which a municipality or regional school district could expend public funds for printing and distribution of an explanation of the subject matter of a referendum.”
“With two exceptions discussed below, no expenditure of state, municipal or regional school district funds can be made to influence any person to vote for approval or disapproval of any referendum question. The ban applies when a referendum is pending.”
“By ordinance, a municipality may provide for the preparation and printing of concise summaries of arguments in favor of and opposed to a referendum for which an explanatory text is prepared under § 9-369b(a) or (b).”
“The other exception is that an official can express his/her views on a pending referendum at a bona fide news conference, and may use public funds, facilities, and supplies to prepare a press release to be disseminated at the conference.
“Also, an official may use public funds, facilities and supplies to respond to a constituent request for information concerning the referendum, including the official’s views. The exception is lost however, if the official responds to the citizen’s request with the knowledge that the response will be disseminated to others in the community.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Diane Cece of Norwalk First, who spoke at only one public hearing on the charter revision proposals, met briefly with Town Clerk Rick McQuaid.
McQuaid had drafted an explanation of the ballot questions, to hand to voters. He did not want it released to the public yet because it is just a draft, he said. Cece called it, “Pretty good,” saying it cites the charter, explains the changes and states when they would go into effect.
McQuaid said he had been asked by “numerous people” to write the explainer.
“We’ve done whatever we could do amongst all the other things we have to do for the election,” he said.
Asked why an explainer hadn’t been written months ago, McQuaid said the Common Council didn’t ask him to.
State statute says the town clerk will prepare the ballot questions. The town clerk will write an explainer, but only if the legislative body asks him to, the statute says.
“I probably did more than I had to do,” McQuaid said.
One of the four ballot questions asks the public if the terms of the Mayor and Town Clerk should be extended from their current two year-length to four years.
“I can explain the question to the point where it doesn’t concern my position,” McQuaid said.
On another matter, Kimmel said in May that the Council would begin to consider the possibility of another Charter Revision Commission in the summer. Many citizens have asked what happened to that.
“We will look into this issue after the election,” Kimmel said in an email. “The summer and fall were much busier than we anticipated, plus we had vacations, etc.”