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Public workshops on Charter Revision kick off tonight

Norwalk’s City Charter, which was rewritten and approved last November after a century of stagnation, will be discussed at three upcoming public workshops, the first of which is today, Wednesday June 12 from 7 until 9 p.m. in the Common Council Chambers at Norwalk City Hall, 125 East Avenue.  Zoom # is 646 558 8656, webinar ID 821 1782 1077.

The City’s rewritten charter mandates formation of a new Charter Revision Commission convened by the Common Council to consider possible further charter refinements which would be presented to the electorate in 2025.  The three workshops, intended to be a prelude to establishment of that new commission, are described in a news release as “an opportunity for the community to hear from municipal leaders in cities and towns across the state who also underwent charter revision.” The meetings are informational, no votes or decisions will be made.

Wednesday June 12 workshop participants:

Attorney Steve Mednick-Special Counsel, Norwalk Charter Revision (moderator)

  • Vinny Cervoni-Mayor and former Council President, Wallingford
  • Shari Cantor- Mayor, West Hartford
  • Thomas McCarthy – Former Council President, Bridgeport
  • Gene Nocera – Council President, Middletown
  • Tyisha Walker-Meyers- Board of Alders President, New Haven
  • T.J. Clarke II– Assistant Majority Leader, Hartford
  • Chris Anderson– Former Assistant Minority Leader, New Britain

Subsequent workshops according to a news release received yesterday:

  • Tuesday July 30 at 7 p.m. “The Budget Process.”
  • Monday Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. “The Mayor’s Role and Balancing the Council and the Mayor.”

Comments

5 responses to “Public workshops on Charter Revision kick off tonight”

  1. David Muccigrosso

    We need to re-envision the Council as a more proportional body.

    All the calls for “minority party representation” are usually just silly set-asides that amount to Affirmative Action For Republicans. Screw that!

    What we really need is proportionalism in multi-member districts. Take the 5 existing districts, give them 5 seats each, and make them elected proportionally.

    This is a system that will ensure BETTER representation for minority parties than mere set-asides for the GOP. Let’s see some Greens and Libertarians! Or the Norwalk Independents. But let them all fight for their representation by actually earning people’s votes, instead of giving the Republicans an unearned HANDOUT.

    1. John Levin

      David – I agree that thoughtful charter revision can be used to help address the lopsided political representation of our city’s elected officials, but I disagree with your solution, and also with your characterization of “minority party representation”.

      Norwalk’s Common Council currently consists of 15 members – 5 at-large plus 10 more comprised of 2 from each district. In my view, expanding the Council to 25 members would make the body unwieldy. 15 already is a large number – many cities and towns in our state operate with smaller legislative bodies (Hartford-9, Wallingford-9, Middletown-12, New London-7). Further, meetings involving Norwalk’s Council members are too often stretched in duration because so many of the council members, for whatever reason, feel compelled to make a comment on nearly everything being discussed – am I the only one to notice this? Invite 10 more people to participate in that practice? Please no. Finally, in recent cycles the different parties (Norwalk has three currently functioning) have struggled to find 15 party members interested in running for, and then possibly serving in these virtually unpaid work heavy positions. (I’ve heard one person describe Common Council as possibly the worst job in Norwalk: tons of work, no pay, and no authority to actually do anything.)

      Next, I don’t think that it’s fair to characterize a “minority party representation” requirement in Norwalk as Affirmative Action for republicans or granting Republicans “an unearned HANDOUT”. In last year’s municipal elections zero Republican candidates won – yet these candidates received a substantial portion of the total votes. The republican mayoral candidate, Vinny Scicchitano, received 45.2% of votes. For the five city at-large council positions, which saw 14 candidates running from 3 parties, five republican candidates (I was one of them) received 39.8% of total votes cast, yet 100% of the positions were awarded as required to the highest individual vote getters, all democrats. Norwalk’s Independent Party, which had 4 candidates running, received only 4.9% of the votes cast. Meanwhile, the Green Party has had no participation in Norwalk’s municipal elections that I can recall. I think it is quite unfair to claim that the significant number of voters who cast their votes for republican candidates deserve to be shut out of all municipal elected offices – a minority party representation requirement in Norwalk’s charter, if fairly and properly constructed, could help to address this real problem without favoring any one minority party over others.

      Some compelling solutions have been developed to provide for electoral representation by minority parties and voting communities which have substantial numbers in a given jurisdiction yet reliably fail to ever win in winner-take-all elections. These include cumulative voting and ranked choice voting. Unfortunately both are a heavy lift to institute primarily because they are simultaneously novel and complex. Hopefully our community might have a forum in the future for learning about these types of solutions for minority representation.

      1. Tanner Thompson

        I strongly agree with David’s call for proportional representation, and I strongly agree with John’s point about unwieldy size. How about keeping the existing 15-member structure and switching the 5 at-large seats to proportional representation?

        Also, one critique of John’s argument – the numbers you cited for Republican & third-party vote counts are correct, but need to be taken with a grain of salt. Because of our first-past-the-post voting system, most people who aren’t interested in voting Democrat choose (rationally, I’d argue) to coalesce around the other main party. If we switched to proportional representation, the dynamics would be different, and I don’t think we could necessarily expect 40-45% of votes to go to Republicans. I think that’s what David’s describing as an “unearned handout”. (one piece of evidence: if you look at party registration, Ds outnumber Rs like 2 to 1, and I believe more people are registered I/U/Other than are registered R.)

        1. David Muccigrosso

          John’s point about unwieldy size is indeed taken well.

          Although I’d be open to keeping a smaller size, I also can’t help but wonder whether perhaps a change to the parliamentary rules to accommodate a multiparty system might help.

          For instance, maybe each party can only be granted so much time for comment, or can nominate a spokesperson to handle most of their commentary etc.

          Just a thought; all I’m saying is, there’s a lot of room for implementation details here. What’s most important isn’t that we figure them all out right this second, but that we agree on the overall principle of proportionality.

      2. David Muccigrosso

        I think we’re getting hung up on terminology here, which is VERY important.

        “Minority representation” CAN mean proportional methods, but generally by not actually calling itself “proportional”, it’s understood by poli-sci nerds like me to imply NOT using proportionalism. Instead, it’s generally understood to imply set-aside seats or quotas.

        Which very much WOULD be the worst sense of “Affirmative Action”: It’s a quota!

        So, respectfully, I would ask that good-faith partisans such as yourself would help us stamp out the use of the ill-born phrase “minority party representation”, because it can (1) mislead nerds like me, and (2) mislead the public, about what you actually mean.

        “Proportional representation” is pretty much the only ethically acceptable means for allocating seats proportionally to votes (IE, it doesn’t rely on quotas). It’s in use across MOST of the rest of the world, including countries we consider much less mature democracies than our own; so I struggle to deem that our electorate would somehow *not* be sophisticated enough to understand PR. And within the umbrella of PR, there are plenty of different methods of varying complexity and trade-offs which reasonable people can differ on.

        But at the end of the day, PR is simple, universally understood, and doesn’t accidentally imply that we’re going to set up a quota of Republicans, which would only further entrench the two-party system, besides turning it into a mockery of democracy.

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