Petrini vows to push Norwalk charter reform

Council President Jerry Petrini (R-District D), left, plans to move the Council toward a limited charter revision. The idea is to make the mayor's term and the Council member's term four years long, beginning in 2017.
Council President Jerry Petrini (R-District D), left, plans to move the Council toward a limited charter revision. The idea is to make the mayor’s term and the Council member’s term four years long, beginning in 2017.

Update, 10:44 p.m. Saturday, comment from DTC Chairman Ed Camacho. 

NORWALK, Conn. – The drive for Norwalk charter revision is picking up steam with the support of Council President Jerry Petrini (R-District D).

“I am going to go and tackle this thing full bore. I’m now the Council president, so it’s resting with me,” Petrini said.

Mayor Harry Rilling has been advocating a charter revision to change the terms of the mayor and Common Council members from two years to four, with the support of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce. The idea is to get something on the ballot for the next municipal election, which Petrini said Friday can be done.

“We have listened, all of us. We have been talking about it for quite a while, but now I’m nailing it down. It’s either we do it or we don’t, but finally put it to rest. I’m pretty optimistic,” Petrini said, expressing hope that a committee can be formed by March, which would allow time for public hearings before September.

Republican Town Committee Chairman Pete Torrano said he supports charter revision, with some caveats.

“I think the Democrats and the Republicans are on the same page with the basic idea of extending the mayor’s term to four years,” Torrano said. “We will also be exploring extending the term of office for the Councilmen, and possibly increasing the pay for the Council people, which is a paltry $50 a month right now.”

But, “We don’t want to turn this into a situation where everyone has input into this and, ‘We’d like to have everything in the charter changed.’ We’d like to focus on these two or three specific items initially,” Torrano said. “That doesn’t mean that in the future we can’t open up the charter for other things. If we can agree, then our committees will focus on just these things, the salaries and the extended terms for the Council and the extended term for the mayor, then we’ll move forward on that and we’ll put it out for a vote.”

Petrini said he met with Minority Leader Travis Simms (D-District B) Friday.

“We have put together sample questions that we are putting forward to our caucuses,” Petrini said. “I fully briefed Travis today – I want Travis to come back with his recommendations for things with his caucus. We are going to further meet with my caucus this month, so it hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. I am putting my best effort forward to see if we can get to a meeting of the minds on this thing.

“Really, we’re looking at a narrow band of questions,” Petrini continued. “Everybody you talk to on the Council has different ideas of doing this, this and that. I am trying to keep it as painless and quick and easy as we can so I am working on it full strength.”

At least 10 yes votes from the 15 member Council are needed to form a charter revision committee. Petrini said he’s hoping for a unanimous yes.

“There’s been a lot of dialogue, a lot of good things,” Petrini said. “Hopefully we can get some people together, we’d love to get 15, so we’ll see what happens.”

“We are waiting to hear back from the Democratic Town committee who is putting together a team, four or five people, who will discuss what we are going to do with the charter,” Torrano said.

“I believe both parties are in alignment on this one, and it will not be difficult to reach consensus,” Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ed Camacho said in a Saturday email.

“I am hopeful that we are going to get it done,” Rilling said. “I think it’s important and I know a lot of people have come out and supported it. During the campaign, both former Mayor Moccia and I spoke that we were for charter revision, a 4-year term for mayor, a 4-year term for Council. I think that’s important in order for you to have a sufficient time to get your momentum going and start to get your agenda, some programs in place and those kinds of things.”


10 responses to “Petrini vows to push Norwalk charter reform”

  1. WOW just WOW

    A four year term for Mayor would be fine if we had qualified people running.. Also if we increase the term the charter needs to have a means of impeachment to remove the Mayor if needed.
    One other thing that I am many in Norwalk would like to see in charter reform is a police civilian review board.

  2. John Hamlin

    Everyone will have a wish list — and that’s to be expected. I would suggest that what we need really a change in the form of government in Norwalk — it’s clearly not working when you compare it to other municipalities (like Stamford and a host of surrounding communities) that are more functional in so many ways — take development and planning as examples. Don’t we need a strong mayor/weak council or city manager form of government? Isn’t that the charter reform we need? Also, don’t we need to reform our planning and zoning commissions and our whole planning function? There are surely other significant issues that should be/need to be addressed by charter reform. I don’t think extending the mayoral and council terms to four years and paying the council will solve anything — no one is accountable and no one can get anything done with the current system– it has nothing to do with the length of their terms. They can’t even figure out who is responsible for evaluating city employees — apparently no one — it’s currently an astonishingly dysfunctional system. All we will be doing is institutionalizing and extending the dysfunction for an additional two years and making it even more difficult to get productive changes accomplished. The only people who should be in favor of this are those who are in favor of the status quo — and if they support it we should be sure to vote them out whenever this single issue charter reform hits the ballot.

  3. Piberman

    We all know that it’s the people not the organization’s format that gets results. The key charter change needed to bring the Ciry in conformance with well governed communities by having an elected Bosrd of Finance to replace the politically appointed “pass through” BET,. Remember the former Board Chair of the discredited NEON added to the BET last year ? City Mayors always get 2 terms to demonstrate what they can do. Or not do. No amount of charter change will change our governance handicap – dysfunctional oft Ill mannered politicsl parties discouraging well qualified candidates from participating. Lest they be accused of “discrimination”, being “fakes” or “disrespectful” of minorities. Long time residents remember that it was local business owners and long term residents that formed the core of devoted party members ensuring good governance. Big Box largely displaced those citizens and the mall will knock out the remaining ones. Maybe it’s time to reach out Norwalk’s “new class” of renters to become involved.
    By the way the City’s Chamber of Commerce membership mostly outside the City. It’s been many years since the Chamber represents City residents.

  4. LWitherspoon

    John Hamlin makes excellent points. My guess is that two-year terms were implemented with the hope of increased accountability for elected officials. If we move to four-year terms, we should at the same time consider other changes that will increase the accountability, responsiveness, and effectiveness of city government.

    I can understand why it’s easier for elected officials not to have to campaign every two years. What I’d like to know is why it’s better for taxpayers, and what other changes will be made to ensure responsible government.

  5. Gordon Tully

    John, I fully agree that we need major charter reform creating a strong mayor or city manager form of government. But given the fragmented and contentious politics in this city, I think you have to take this one step at a time.

    Having a proposal that is supported by the Chamber and both Dems and Republicans seems to me remarkable in itself. It is unlikely to make things worse, which would be hard to do, and it might make things better. If you try to take too big a step or load the proposal up with contentious issues, nothing will happen.

  6. John Hamlin

    @GordonTully — “a proposal that is supported by the Chamber and both Dems and Republicans” but that does absolutely nothing to enhance government or move us toward progress seems to be all we can expect from politicians in this town — and agreement on a useless proposal is absolutely no reason to support it — it’s as good as their support for “world peace” — take it to the bank and get nothing for it.

  7. Piberman

    Those who seek a different form of City gov’t ought examine Stamford. Then Mayor Malloy put together a new team and the rest is history. All MBA’s know its the people not the organization’s details. Mayor Rilling’s success over his expected terms of office will largely depend on his support team, not revising the City Charter. Whether strong or weak our Mayor’s success is a team effort. Not our Charter’s arrangements. Similarly nothing precludes the Council from serving with greater distinction.

  8. Lisbeth Blue

    There is so much time and money wasted when public officials must spend 50%of their term to get adjusted to the office and then ready to run for office. I agree with those hoping to lengthen all offices to 4 years, maybe more, like the national Senate offices.

    Our citizens seem indifferent about odd year elections. Maybe all elections should be on even years, and much longer.

    Time to modernize It all!

  9. Piberman

    Can anyone look back and say that this or that mayor or councilman would have served better if they were elected for 4 instead of 2 years ? Does our oft dysfunctional BOE suggest 4 years are the key ? Is there any evidence from other CT towns that moving from 2 to 4 gives major results ? Nope. F

  10. Bill

    Imagine if David Watts were not able to be thrown out of office every 2 years? Imagine if we had to deal with him for another 2 years bc he had a 4 year term? No thanks, no charter revision needed.

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