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Opinion: Reasons to vote no on charter revision

Election 2016Norwalk First is opposed to the approval of Charter Revision Ballot Question #1 (to change the term of mayor from two years to four) & Question #3 (to increase the Council salary to 2 percent of the base mayoral salary) for numerous reasons, chief among them:

 

  • The failure of the Charter Revision Commission (CRC) and the Common Council to make a compelling case for extending the mayoral term or increasing the salary of the Council.
    1. Neither the CRC nor the Council provided any evidence that a four-year term or salary increase would produce better results for the city. For example, would we improve upon our Aaa bond rating with a four-year term?
    2. While a longer term reduces campaigning time and fundraising expenses, these are not the concern of the residents of Norwalk. No incumbent mayor should be neglecting their duties in order to campaign or fundraise on city time whether or not it is every two years or four.
    3. Little or no analysis was completed when comparing other Fairfield County municipalities that would be considered comparable to Norwalk. For example, of the 23 other municipalities provided in Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola’s report to the CRC, only two are cities – Bridgeport and Stamford – both with four year Mayoral terms (enacted 1998 and 1995, respectively). The others 21 are towns, and have First Selectmen and other forms of government. In assessing the overall state of the two cities, we note Bridgeport’s crippling debt, negative bond rating, 54.37 mil rate (double that of Norwalk), high crime rates and poor quality of life. Though Stamford fares better in some of those categories, we note that they have a Board of Representative government, with 40 members, who also serve four year terms.

 

  • The revisions do not address the systemic issues needed to fix the root causes of many of the city’s most controversial problems.
    1. The city charter is 103 years old and has been opened rarely, but for impactful changes. This Council opened it with the goal of an extended mayoral term.
    2. Planning and land use issues that expose the city, and thus taxpayers, to legal and financial liabilities could have been addressed by considering changes to the charter.
    3. The formation of the CRC with a limited scope and a mandate that questions appear on this year’s ballot largely guaranteed the outcome, squandering the opportunity for exploring real and effective change, such as:
      1. Creating a City Manager role (at 56 percent, the most popular form of government in cities with populations greater than 10,000).
      2. Considering a strategic City Planner role versus, or in addition to, the administrative role of a P&Z Director.
  • Residency clauses for key department heads.
  1. Term limits for multiple elected and appointed officials.
  2. Increasing the size of the Council
  3. A review of city boards, agencies, commissions, and authorities for responsibilities, authority, relevance, effectiveness, size and appointee terms.

 

 

  • Accountability was forfeited for political, self-serving change.
    1. The charter revision process was used for frivolous political changes in the form of an extended mayoral term and Council salary increase linked to the Council-determined mayoral salary, removing future increases from approval by the voters.
    2. Residents never requested the two changes proposed in Questions 1 and 3. These were the result of eight years of relentless lobbying by the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, a regional organization. Despite resistance by every prior Council to opening the charter for these changes, indicating a clear lack of support for these measures, this year the political conditions were favorable.
    3. A four-year mayoral term diminishes accountability to voters, risking higher taxes. A four-year mayoral term with two year Council is likely to create dramatically low voter turnout in non-mayoral election years, possibly entrenching one political party over another.
    4. Many who find the proposed effective date in 2017 unacceptable would be supportive of the four-year term and a voter-approved pay raise mechanism if the effective date had been 2019, when they could be certain that the incumbents likely to benefit are unknown.

 

Norwalk First: Lisa Brinton Thomson, Diane Cece & Deb Goldstein

4 comments

Piberman November 8, 2016 at 11:19 am

The Charter Commission’s recommendation to extend terms of City Political Mayors traditionally without any business skills is an unprecedented embarrassment of City governance. Especially with a sitting Mayor supporting the Term Extention. If passed it would guarantee continued property stagnation and decline.

Micky November 8, 2016 at 5:18 pm

Thank you Norwalk First, you time spend in articulating the points of the proposed revision should be appreciated by the citizen of the City of Norwalk.
I voted NO, what’s the hurry democrats, you want more power?

diane c2 November 9, 2016 at 6:05 pm

Mickey, happy that we provided some info for you. Unfortunate that public info campaign fell to three residents who formed Norwalk First and a handful of other concerned folks.
LOTS of lessons learned from the process, and looking forward to productive, meaningful charter review soon that will better engage Norwalk residents.

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