“Magna Carta” Sessions Start With Board Of Ed

Thomas MacMillan PhotoWhich is more accountable to the public and less likely to become politicized: An elected Board of Education? Or one appointed by the mayor?

An elected Board of Ed would comprise independent people who’ve proven they’re motivated and engaged, said Christine Bartlett-Josie.

An appointed Board of Ed ensures that people who aren’t professional politicians are put in charge, said Matt Smith.

The city should have a hybrid board of elected and appointed members, with requirements on what kinds of people the mayor must appoint, suggested Rachel Heerema.

Thomas MacMillan PhotoThose views were exchanged Monday night at the Grove co-working space on Orange Street downtown as part of a public conversation about charter revision, the once-a-decade opportunity to change the city’s foundational legal document.

As the city gears up to possibly change the charter, a group of three politically minded friends in town are organizing a series of meetings to stir conversation and prompt public participation in the charter revision process. They held their first meeting Monday at the Grove.

The New Haven charter contains the laws that establish the most basic elements of New Haven government: length of terms, the number of seats on the Board of Aldermen, the city’s code of ethics.

This year, as part of a legally required at-least-once-every-10-years process, the Board of Aldermen has begun the process of charter revision. City lawmakers recently appointed a special commission of 15 people tasked with examining the charter and proposing any revisions they deem necessary. Proposed changes that are approved by the Board of Aldermen will be placed on the November 2013 ballot for a city-wide referendum.

The charter revision commission will hold its first meeting Tuesday evening in City Hall, where it is expected to elect a chair. The commission must complete its work and submit its proposed changes by May 2013. It must hold a minimum of two public hearings along the way.

Elm City Magna Carta

Monday’s meeting at the Grove came about as a result of a conversation among Heerema, Nate Bixby, and Aaron Goode. All share connections to the Grove, along with an interest in New Haven, city politics, and civic engagement. They set up a Facebook page and organized the meeting.

“We hope to get people excited about charter revision,” Heerema said as she set up chairs before Monday’s meeting.

She chuckled. Charter change is a “wonky kind of thing to get excited about,” she noted.

At least 30 people in New Haven are wonky enough to share Heerema’s excitement. That’s how many showed up to take part in the conversation, including four aldermen and a state representative (pictured), making a total of at least two possible mayoral candidates in the room.

Goode kicked off the evening with a presentation about the charter and its possible revision.

“It’s our own little Elm City magna carta,” he said. It’s like the U.S. Constitution, but it has 39 chapters instead of only seven, he said. “So it’s got to be better.”

The meeting then broke into smaller “working groups” to discuss topics offered by members of the group assembled. Among the proffered ideas:

The city should find a new way to measure success, such as “Gross National Happiness” instead of “Gross Domestic Product.” The mayor and aldermen ought to have term limits. The city should improve “transparency” when it comes to posting notice of public meetings. The charter revision commission should examine all boards and commissions, how they are formed, and whether they should be appointed or elected. Should the Board of Aldermen be given a new name, one that’s “gender free or gender neutral? Like, the “Board of Alders”? Or how about just “City Council”? How many aldermen should the city have? Should the city have aldermen “at-large” who represent the interests of the entire city?

Elected, Appointed, Or Hybrid?

Heerema (at right in photo), who suggested talking about the Board of Ed, ended up in a group with several others.

Eliza Halsey (at left), part of a parent group involved in public school issues, spoke up in favor of having a hybrid Board of Ed, with most of the members appointed by the mayor and the rest elected.

Christine Bartlett-Josie, another public school mom, said the whole board should be elected.

Matt Smith, the mayor’s liaison to the Board of Aldermen, said an elected board presents the danger that “politics takes over the conversation.”

Many larger cities engaged in school reform have appointed Boards of Ed, which allow for the “shaping of a vision” that’s “unencumbered by politics,” Smith said.

Goode said it comes down to “a question of values.” Do you want “concentrated accountability”—a mayor who is accountable for the entire board and can be voted out if people aren’t happy? Or do you want “community responsiveness”—an elected board that directly represents the will of voters?

Halsey offered a complication: If the mayor is good on most issues, but bad on school, it can be hard to hold him or her accountable. Also, if the board is appointed, you “can get good folks on the board” who wouldn’t consider running for a position.

On the other hand, on an elected school board, you would get members who have had to campaign, have had to “put themselves out there” and prove they know the issues, said Bartlett-Josie (pictured at the top of the story).

That means you also would get the people who have the ability to raise money and take time off from their jobs to campaign, Smith pointed out.

The other value of having people run for the board is campaigns the discussion of school issues to the front doors of people throughout the city, said Bartlett-Josie. She said her neighbors can’t tell you who’s on the Board of Ed, but they know who their aldermen is. That’s because the aldermen have to knock on their doors and win their vote.

Heerema said she would like to see a hybrid Board of Ed with “proportional” representation, not members “at-large.” In other words, each neighborhood should be able to elect a member.

Also, maybe the mayor should be required to appoint to the Board of Ed someone from the citywide PTO, a student, “people with marginalized voices,” Heerema said.

Should there be qualification requirements for Board of Ed members? wondered Darryl Brackeen (pictured), a social studies teacher and former Westville aldermanic candidate. Some of the issues the board deals with can get “pretty technical,” he said.

Hereema pointed out that aldermen are requiring the charter revision commission ponder a similar questions: Should the deputy parks director be a certified arborist?

Later, as the meeting wrapped up, participants offered three-word impressions of the evening: “Totally dug it. … An exciting start. … More change needed.  … Lots to explore. … I wasn’t listening.”

Bixby (pictured) offered the final one: “We’re not done.”

He asked for a show of hands of who would be willing to testify and to bring others to testify at a public hearing of the charter revision. Nearly everyone put up a hand, indicating the commission will get an earful as it moves forward with its work of changing the city’s “magna carta.”


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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 11, 2012  10:22am

How come no talk about Term Limits and Geting rid of the two party system and having the system of proportional representation which would give the people more of a voice.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 11, 2012  10:52am

Matt Smith, the mayor’s liaison to the Board of Aldermen, said an elected board presents the danger that “politics takes over the conversation.”

How true.In fact did you not get your liaison to the Board of Aldermen job by politics.Also a elected school board represents the people, not politicians. Politically appointed boards often only represent the interests of the person who appoints members.As the BOE stands now it is nothing more then mayoral control like you have in New York with KING Bloomberg.Major cities Like New York Boston, Chicago,puppet school boards much like NEW Haven who take away democratic checks and balances, makes it much easier to push austerity and privatization.But the people are rising up and demanding that this judas goat non elected school boards be replaced with a elected school board.Look at Chicago.

November 11, 2012

Support for Elected School Board Growing in Chicago

Filed under: Mayoral control Chicago — millerlf @ 11:35 am

Aldermen push for city-wide referendum on elected school board

BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND ROSALIND ROSSI Staff Reporters November 8, 2012 Chicago Sun Times

Independent Chicago aldermen vowed Thursday to push for a citywide referendum on an elected school board opposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, emboldened by 86 percent support from voters in parts of 35 wards.

Despite a parliamentary maneuver by a mayoral ally that blocked referenda in 10 Chicago wards, education activists in 327 precincts went door-to-door to gather the signatures needed to put the elected school board question on the ballot. The results were overwhelming. By an 86.6 percent margin, 65,763 Chicagoans said they would prefer an elected school board to the current system of seven mayoral appointees confirmed by the City Council.

Chicago has the only school district in the state that does not have an elected school board.

Notice 65,763 Chicagoans said they would prefer an elected school board to the current system of seven mayoral appointees confirmed by the City Council.


posted by: Jacques Strap on December 11, 2012  12:03pm

@ Matt Smith—An elected board of ed would ensure that friends and tushy-kissers of the mayor would not be appointed.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on December 11, 2012  12:17pm

The real problem with Charter Revision is that it always gets presented as a “package”.

In the last go-round, a provision that the Mayor’s term of office be extended to 4yrs likely torpedoed everything else.

Why not a months-long web-based discussion/education with opinion polling?

My feeling is that if something doesn’t garner 60% support, it shouldn’t be in the “package”....

Final question: Can the ultimate voting be done a la carte?

posted by: Curious on December 11, 2012  1:03pm

Threefifths, the article specifically mentions term limits.  Do you even read these, or do you just knee-jerk post about term limits and the two-party system on every single article you read here?

posted by: RHeerema on December 11, 2012  4:31pm

This was a great night of conversation.  I’m personally grateful to everyone who showed up. We hope to hold another open conversation in January. 

@Anderson Scooper, as far as we are aware, there are no rules that require the entire revision package to be voted up/down.  We can demand these proposals be listed a la carte. 

We don’t have all the notes keyed in yet, but once we do we’ll post them to the Facebook page linked in the article.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 11, 2012  6:27pm

posted by: Curious on December 11, 2012 12:03pm

Threefifths, the article specifically mentions term limits.  Do you even read these, or do you just knee-jerk post about term limits and the two-party system on every single article you read here?

Were is there talk about proportional representation which would give the people more of a voice?

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on December 11, 2012  6:28pm

@Anderson Scooper:

Wrote:  “The real problem with Charter Revision is that it always gets presented as a “package”.  In the last go-round, a provision that the Mayor’s term of office be extended to 4yrs likely torpedoed everything else.”

My Response: I served on the Charter Revision Committee “last go-round” 2002, and I think that you are wrong about what “torpedoed” it, though you ARE correct that the “package” presentation probably helped.

The unaddressed problem here by both you and, if the NHI’s coverage is accurate, the group that met Monday night, is the fact that the Charter Revision Committee’s work does not get to the voters without the approval of the Aldermanic Council.  When the last Committee put forth the idea that the Mayor’s term should be increased to four years, a perfectly reasonable notion in this city where the mayor’s job is executive and not just ceremonial, the Aldermanic Council at the time made it clear to us that they would NOT vote to put any of our proposals before the public for a vote unless the revisions included a provision for four year terms for the Alder-person, as well, a totally ridiculous notion, in my estimation.

While it seems a huge waste of time for a Chief Executive Officer of an entire city to have to campaign for office every two years, (though term-limits would ALSO be a good idea), Alder-persons who represent a much, much smaller portion of the city SHOULD have to stand for re-election biennially.  If United States Congress-Persons (the fed. equivalent of Alder-persons) who represented at the turn of the century an average of over 600,000   constituents must seek re-election every two years, why should New Haven Alders who represents a much, much smaller number than that get four year terms? 

Having forced the Committee’s hand on this issue and gotten its way, the Alder-Council then decided that our proposed changes to the Charter would be presented to the public as a “package”, to ensure that if the public voted for a four year term for the mayor’s office the alder’s positions would get the same thing.  The ultimate fear here was allowing the public to make a decision that would split the vote.  Had the public been allowed to vote on each proposal separately, we would have had a clear indication of which idea they thought

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on December 11, 2012  6:33pm

credible.  Of course, the heavy handiness of the Alder-Council in this matter would not allow for that possibility.

So, while the “package” presentation IS a problem, addressing it does not address the foundational problem, and that is that the Aldermanic Council is the conduit through which the proposed Charter revisions MUST pass in order to get to “The People” for a vote. 

Rev. Samuel T. Ross-Lee
Charter Revision Member 2002

posted by: Brutus2011 on December 11, 2012  7:00pm

Wow. I had no idea this was happening.

I would definitely have been there.

My sense is that this needs to be analyzed from the American republican government point of view.

By that I mean to see where the current charter has allowed or prevented the encroachment of legislative supremacy or where individuals, or groups of individuals, have begun defining the rule of law.

Our system of government was founded on rule of law. The doctrine of legislative supremacy, or where individuals or groups of individuals, elected or appointed, decide the rule of law, was rejected.

It is patently obvious that the current mayor and his appointed managers have accumulated considerable power to the detriment of our city. This kind of power erodes republican values and enslaves us all to varying degrees.

Term limits is a start, however, how to dismantle the current patronage system should have priority.

Assuming, of course, that we collectively come to our senses and do what is needed next November.

posted by: abg22 on December 13, 2012  6:40pm

To Mr. Ross-Lee: You are incorrect that the Board of Alderman must approve the commission’s recommendations. Please check Chapter 99 of Connecticut General Statutes. The recommendations can go to referendum if approved by the appointing authority OR certification by petition (i.e. signature-gathering, 10% of electors).

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on December 13, 2012  11:14pm


I can appreciate that what you write is true (I haven’t checked the source you sited), but given the time between the completion of our work and Election Day that year, there would have been no time to gather the needed signatures. So, we were dependent on the vote of the Alders to move our proposals from the committee to the people.

But it’s good to know that another avenue might be possible, if highly improbable.

Rev. Samuel T. Ross-Lee

posted by: abg22 on December 19, 2012  2:10pm

To AndersonScooper: State law is purposefully ambiguous about exactly how charter amendments are to be presented on the ballot (they “may be submitted in the form of one or several questions”); in any event, the form of the questions is the responsibility of the appointing authority, in this case the Board of Aldermen. If you look at the dozens of charter revision referendums in different municipalities in Connecticut in 2012, most of the charter amendments were separately enumerated, even when this creates a very long ballot. In Brookfield, for example, there were 9 different questions, some of them quite long. (View the complete list of 2012 Connecticut ballot referendums at: http://www.sots.ct.gov/sots/lib/sots/electionservices/misc/2012_ballot_quest_and_returns.pdf). So it is misleading to suggest that charter amendments are usually or traditionally presented as a unified package, though it may be true to some extent for the cities (controversially in Bridgeport in 2012, and New Haven in 2002), where there is perhaps (wrongly in my view) less “trust” in the acumen or sophistication of voters. There are some cases where consolidation makes sense: an extremely long ballot can be confusing, expensive, and cause problems at the polls (part of the reason Florida had long lines at the polls this November); and there are some reforms (e.g. creating a smaller Board of Aldermen and longer terms) that are co-dependent, that is, you wouldn’t want one without the other. But in general, from the standpoint of clarity and common sense, the items should be separately enumerated.