You wouldn’t think so, but the extraordinary fireworks surrounding our nation’s presidential race may be affecting Norwalk’s future in a very distinct way. How? By diverting attention from potentially momentous changes to the way our small city is governed.
On Election Day, there will be four questions about proposed changes to our city’s charter that, if approved, will fundamentally alter our local government.
I think all of us can agree that two of the four questions are fine. One would change official references to elected officials to be gender neutral. The other would eliminate a few outmoded elective offices. A third question — about raising the pay of certain elective offices — is a bit more controversial. But extending the term of Norwalk’s mayor to four years is, in my opinion is not needed.
Let me explain. Consider first that there were no citizens who actively approached anyone in city government to make this change. No one requested it. It was brought to the political parties a few years back by the Chamber of Commerce. While I can appreciate the Chamber’s desire to eliminate the sometimes disruptive democratic process, the nature of government needs to be checked by the citizens’ ability to make choices to get change when necessary. The change to a four-year term may sound reasonable enough, but without other changes to the structure of our city government, it is a dangerous misalignment of power.
It could prove costly to taxpayers and inevitably cause bigger problems than it would supposedly solve. Why? For starters, the Common Council and Board of Education will still need to have “off-year” elections of their members. Without someone to “head” the ticket in those years, there would be little to most voter. During Norwalk’s normal local election cycle turnout is below 38 % of register voters. It’s likely that not even one in ten citizens would come out to choose members of the Common Council and Board of Education. Both these the bodies of government are responsible for approving and supervising an almost $400 million budget.
Supporters of the Charter changes say it will enable the mayor to make unpopular decisions without fear of being defeated in the subsequent election. Huh? Isn’t that exactly the reason we have elections? — to prevent a mayor who loses touch with the citizens from taking actions that most of us do not want to see happen? We need responsible office holders who are accountable for their actions. I have had the privilege of serving on the Norwalk Common Council in total for 23 years. I have never served for any other reason than to volunteer to make my city better. I do not feel that an increase in the pay for the office accomplishes anything other than to create a different motivation to serve. There is some notion that this change is part of the reason the questions sailed through the council. If true, that should worry us. In sum, when mayors serve the interests of the citizens who elect them, they are re-elected easily. The power of incumbency gives them an advantage over a neophyte trying to take their place. There has only been three Mayors in the last 70 years who have served one term.
The argument for changing the term is that it will provide a Mayor to make tougher decisions without having worry about how those decision may influenced running for reelection every two years. What?!
Good leadership within a two year term provides for the basis of getting reelected, not longer terms.
I am asking you as a voter to consider this simple thought as you go into the booth. Why as a voter would I want to give up my right as a citizen to vote for a candidate every two years?
As a voter , as a Councilman and as a Board of Director of the Chamber of Commerce I am asking you on Nov. 8th to vote NO to longer terms and No to pay raises.
Common Council member
Chamber of Commerce member