Norwalk Town Clerk’s explanatory language too late for 3,000 voters

Election 2016NORWALK, Conn. — Explanatory language on the four ballot questions is ready to go for Tuesday’s election.

The nearly 3,000 absentee ballots that have gone out to the public did not have those explanations on them.

Town Clerk Rick McQuaid is not required by state statute to write explanatory language for ballot referendum unless the Common Council tells him to. The Council did not.

McQuaid said this week that “numerous people” asked him to write explainers, a chore he has squeezed in as he has been in the midst of a lot of election work. That work includes an unprecedented number of absentee ballots; McQuaid said Friday that 2,958 have gone out in the mail.

As of Friday, there were 2,374 ballots returned as votes, he said.

The questions on the ballots are:

  1. Shall the term of the Mayor and Town Clerk be changed from 2 to 4 years?
  2. Shall the offices of City Treasurer, City Sheriff, and Selectman be eliminated?
  3. Shall the annual salary of each Common Council member be set at two percent (2%) of the base salary of the Mayor?
  4. Shall all Charter references to members of the Common Council be gender-neutral?


The need for explanatory language was a topic at this month’s Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) meeting. It was pointed out that the four ballot questions, as a standalone without any explanation, did not specify when the changes would take effect. Voters were left to guess whether they were voting for Mayor Harry Rilling to have a 4-year term, or for current Common Council members to have a pay raise.

That’s cleared up with the newly worded explainer, set to go for Tuesday’s election:




“Shall the term of Mayor and Town Clerk be changed from 2 to 4 years?”

Under §1-166 of the Norwalk City Charter, the term of office of the Mayor, and the term of office of the Town Clerk, is 2 years. The proposed change would make those terms 4 years each.

This would take effect, in each case, for the term of office beginning after the November 2017 Municipal election. Related changes are made to §1-288, concerning appointments to the Board of Estimate and Taxation, in the Municipal election years when the Mayor is not on the ballot, and in §1-174 to provide that, in the case of the death or resignation of the Mayor in first 18 months of a term, a special election for Mayor would occur at the next Municipal election for the unexpired portion of the term.

A YES vote would approve these changes to the Charter and a NO vote would reject these changes leaving the term for both offices at 2 years, and the other sections unchanged.



“Shall the offices of City Treasurer, City Sheriff, and Selectman be eliminated?”

Under §1-166 of the Norwalk City Charter, voters elect a City Treasurer, a City Sheriff, and 3 Selectmen at each Municipal election. However, these offices currently do not perform any duties in Norwalk city government. The proposed change would eliminate these offices from the Norwalk City Charter. Starting with the November 2017 Municipal election, the offices would no longer appear on the ballot. Related changes are made to §1-214, §1-215, §1-216, §1- 224, and §1-246 to eliminate clauses relating to compensation and duties of these offices.

A YES vote would approve these changes to the Charter, and a NO vote would reject these changes, keeping these offices on the ballot and retaining all references to duties and compensation.



“Shall the annual salary of each Common Council member be set at two percent (2%} of the base salary of the Mayor?

  • 1-225 of the Norwalk City Charter sets the annual salary of each Common Council member. That section was last changed in 1980, to set those annual salaries at $600, which they remain to this day. The proposal is to raise those salaries to 2% of the Mayor’s salary, which would currently be equal to an annual salary of $2,769.36 for each Common Council member. The term “base salary of the Mayor” refers to the Mayor’s salary of $138,468 without inclusion of the value of health, retirement, or other benefits. Setting the salary at a percentage of the Mayor’s salary would mean that Common Council salaries would be adjusted when the Mayor’s salary is adjusted, without requiring a change to the Charter.

A YES vote would approve this change to the Charter and a NO vote would reject this change, leaving the salary of each Common Council member at $600 per year.



“Shall all Charter references to members of the Common Council be gender-neutral?”

Currently there are several references to “Common Councilman” or “Common Councilmen” in the Norwalk City Charter, primarily in §1-2.1, §1-8, §1-166, §1-174, §1-197, §1-224, §1-225. All such references would be changed to “Common Council member: or “Common Council members.” Similar gender neutral changes were made to the Connecticut General Statutes in 1974. The proposal recognizes the fact that many women are serving, and have served, on the Common Council and the Charter should not imply that the position is only open to men.
A YES vote would approve this change to the Charter and a NO vote would leave the terms Common Councilman and Common Councilmen in the Charter.


There was talk at the March 9 Charter Revision Commission meeting that the public would need to be informed. Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said, one month before Hearst bought The Hour, that the local newspaper and the local “blog” would be involved. Poll workers would be helpful as well, he said.

(NancyOnNorwalk was not present at the March 9 Charter Revision Commission meeting but left a recorder in the room.)


Debora November 5, 2016 at 2:27 am

From the Charter Revision Commission Meeting Minutes March 9, 2016

“Mr. Coppola said everybody has to get the word out so the public knows and also have the people working the polls instruct voters on Election Day.”

Debora November 5, 2016 at 2:29 am


Thanks for posting the full text of the explanatory language. I’m sure the voters appreciate having it readily available.

Lisa Thomson November 5, 2016 at 6:47 am

This is something Norwalk First argued for and when contrasted against the YES PAC campaign, highlights the disingenuous intent to confuse voters by those who might benefit. Thank you Rick McQuaid and sorry you got stuck with this at the last minute. # DO IT RIGHT OR NOT AT ALL!

Stuart Wells November 5, 2016 at 7:42 am

The full text, as given in the article, will be posted at each polling place on our new “poster display wall” — two pop-up tubes and a 3 foot wide corrugated plastic sheet. This will be located just inside the door to the voting room, so as to be “in your face”, i.e. very hard to miss. This display wall will also contain the Voter ID Rules, Voter Bill of Rights, and other posters supplied by the Secretary of the State’s office.
Our experience is that putting posters on the gym walls at the schools meant that no one noticed them. This seemed like a good year make them more prominent.

diane c2 November 5, 2016 at 7:57 am

Thanks Rick McQuaid! Nicely done.
Thanks to Stuart and Karen as well for improving access to info at the polls.

Piberman November 5, 2016 at 12:05 pm

Would it really make a difference ? If Norwalk citizens really believe extending terms of our political Mayors without any business experience overseeing a $300 million plus City budget would create affordable City services and increasing property values why would they need more lengthy explanations ?
To many others increasing Mayoral terms is such a non-sequitur that they too need no lengthy explanations. We ought be proud that no other CT City even waited a decade to convene a Charter Commission whose major recommendation was to increase the mayor’s term of office. As several residents from the surrounding towns suggested here’s fresh evidence to support the “hole in the middle of the donut”. Well said.

EveT November 5, 2016 at 4:59 pm

You mean the gender-neutral changes will only apply to “councilman” and not to “councilmanic districts”?
We have to go through another cycle of charter revision to change “councilmanic district” to “council district”?
I hope I’m wrong about that.

Debora November 5, 2016 at 5:47 pm

It applies to councilman and councilmen (which appear 8 times) in the charter. It does not apply to other gendered terms such as policeman and fireman, which appear many more times.

To my knowledge, the only place councilmanic appears is in the city’s web site on the district maps–which wouldn’t need a charter change. It does not appear in the charter at all, which may be why the CRC did not recommend that change.

THE TRUTH November 5, 2016 at 8:58 pm

I think by now we all realize how important it is to you to have gender neutral titles. However I could care less what title is used. What my concern is taking the power of the citizens away and being stuck with a failed, useless Mayor like Rilling for 4 years vs 2 years .

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