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Charter Revision Gets Smart

by Thomas MacMillan | Dec 12, 2012 8:38 am

(17) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: City Hall

Thomas MacMillan Photo In its first official act, the city’s Charter Revision Commission elected Alderman Michael Smart as its new chair.

The unanimous vote came Tuesday night at the commission’s first meeting, in City Hall.

Last month, aldermen formed the 15-member Charter Revision Commission as part of the decennial process of considering changes to the city’s foundational legal document: the New Haven charter.

The charter establishes a number of basic elements of city government, including the length of mayoral terms, the number of members of the Board of Aldermen, and the city’s code of ethics. At least every 10 years, the city is required to examine the document and determine if any changes ought to be made.

In November, the Board of Aldermen established a commission to do just that, and set out a list of possible changes the commission is required to consider. The commission comprises 15 people, including several aldermen.

Fourteen of those members showed up in City Hall’s Meeting Room 2 Tuesday evening, where Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez laid out their duties. First order of business: Elect a chair.

Wooster Square’s Alderman Smart was the only nominee. Commissioner Will Ginsberg—head of the Community Foundation For Greater New Haven—asked Smart to describe his vision for the commission.

“My vision is to carry out the wishes of the community,” Smart said. He said it will be a “transparent process.”

Smart was elected unanimously as chair.

Ginsberg asked later about how votes will be taken: A simple majority?

“I think simple majority is the best,” Smart said. He said the commission will try to build consensus, to present the Board of Aldermen with a unified front.

The commission is required to hold at least two public hearings and must complete its work by May, 2013. The commission will present a set of proposed charter changes—if it deems any necessary—to the Board of Aldermen. The board will then approve or deny the proposals for inclusion on a citywide ballot referendum in November, 2013.

The commission set a date of Jan. 10 for its next meeting, where it will be briefed by local attorney and former Alderman Steve Mednick, who has been contracted to assist the commission in its duties. Mednick’s practice has specialized in municipal law.

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posted by: westville man on December 12, 2012  9:02am

This is a good start- Michael Smart, though not in my district, is one of the most honest and hard-working alders. He has no agenda other than what’s best for the City and his community.

posted by: streever on December 12, 2012  9:19am

How can anyone possibly do this in a “transparent” way?

-The invites to participate were opaque.
-People who do not share the views of Smart, Perez, and Jackie-James were not invited to be on the committee.

Ultimately, this is just a way to solidify power, it is not an attempt to open the city and democratize it.

Democratizing the city would put real work on the shoulders of the Aldermen, instead of allowing them to continue to be an overly large committee which serves one purpose:
hiding responsibility.

In NYC, the 51 council members each represent a population larger than the entire population of New Haven—150,000+ people. 8 Alders sit on the Board for Hartford.

It is hard to find cities broken into the small numbers we have: 4000 per aldermen.

What do the individual aldermen do? Agitate for better services for constituents?

This is modern feudalism, and a symptom of an unhealthy city government. You shouldn’t need someone to agitate for you to have sidewalks that you can walk on. You shouldn’t need to have someone to agitate for you to have crime reductions in your neighborhood.

All of this should be a basic function of city government, not something debated and traded as favors.

New Haven is part and parcel with cronyism and corruption. The system is one of patronage, embedded in our Charter, and carried out effectively by the Alders in the article above.

They don’t even realize that what they are doing is wrong. They are so used to the pay-to-play model, and so embedded in the very moral wrongness of their actions, that they have NO understanding of this.

New Haven citizens need to completely re-vamp the people, the process, and the system.

No one has your best interest at heart better than you do, and you need to start using your vote in ways that affect real change for you and your neighbors. For some of you, that means you need to step it up, and run for office next year.

Every single Ward should have a citizen who is currently not connected to the political ruling class of New Haven run. We need real options and choices, and we need people who aren’t part of this broken and corrupt system.

posted by: streever on December 12, 2012  9:46am

@westville man
Everyone—from the King in England to the Pope in Rome—has an agenda.

What is best for one, is not best for another.
What is perceived as best by one, is not necessarily perceived as best by the one it is perceived for.

The system of government in New Haven is one that creates corruption and patronage, from the roots to the limbs. You will not reduce corruption and patronage by having a sitting politician run the Charter Revision process. You will only reduce it by letting the powerless make the decisions.

posted by: westville man on December 12, 2012  10:45am

Steever,  my remarks were made based upon Michael Smart’s history w the present administration and my personal discussions w him. He’s among the best that we have.
At some level, yes, everyone has an “agenda”. I certainly know yours from reading your posts. What i meant was that his was more altruistic than most of the politicians in the city.  Of course you cant please everyone but you can have the greater good in mind and motive when you act. And Michael does.

posted by: Threefifths on December 12, 2012  10:50am

posted by: streever on December 12, 2012 9:19am

How can anyone possibly do this in a “transparent” way?

-The invites to participate were opaque.
-People who do not share the views of Smart, Perez, and Jackie-James were not invited to be on the committee.

It is call political Patronage.Again keep voting them in.

posted by: Threefifths on December 12, 2012  10:57am

Wake up people.This is like Michigan were the people were sold out by Judas Goat Politicians.The same will be here in New Haven.There will be No elected school board,There will be not Term Limits.But as I always say you all voted them in.

posted by: streever on December 12, 2012  11:30am

WVMan:
I’m not sure what you think my agenda is, but I’m not so sure that you understand what is happening in this city.

CCNE is using their political appointments to get cash from developers, which, I applaud on one level.

Unfortunately, they are doing it at the expense of long-term planning and strategic investment in neighborhoods.

With Route 34, they let the city widen the roads, increase the design speeds, and reduce the curb radii, all which contribute to faster speeds and more vehicles. They also let the city move forward without full sidewalks.

In exchange for cash for their jobs program.

Now, at MLK, they are getting $250,000, and all of the concerns of the community are in a non-binding agreement.

The track record of developers following through on non-binding agreements is almost non-existent, so we’ll see how the neighborhood benefits from the cash grab.

CCNE, and by extension the alders who support them, do have an agenda. While they may have great intentions and be noble in thought, what they are doing is perpetuating a pay to play system where the wealthy can circumvent rules and restrictions by giving opaque money to an opaque agency, which spends it without restriction, however they care to.

All of my complaints about John DeStefano can be said about the current BoA as well. Opaque groups which seize power and use cash to their own ends are not in our best interest, no matter how noble the intentions of the participants.

posted by: westville man on December 12, 2012  11:53am

Streever - it doesnt matter what i think your agenda is. You said everyone has one and i agreed.
You’re not sure if I know what’s going on in the city? Nice.  How about 15 years of living here and 30 years in business here and active in my community. All your points had nothing to do w Mike Smart as far as i can tell, except the “by extension” part (whatever that means).
Do you know Michael’s election history here in New Haven?  Do some research before you brush him with the broad stroke with Destefano and others. I stand by my comments.

posted by: streever on December 12, 2012  12:59pm

WVM:
It is not direct slight to Smart, but rather, the tactics of the group he is working with.

The Charter Reform committee excludes many who want to be a part of it, and these people also disagree with Smart and Perez and Jackie-James, so it is inappropriate.

Charter Reform should incorporate many perspectives, not one, which was decided in a private meeting at the Democratic Caucasus of the Board of Aldermen.

That is something that this group—including Smart—did, and I do object to it.

Charter Reform goes beyond doing whatever you want because you won an election. Charter Reform should include more citizens and more voices from our many communities. That the process of choosing the committee was opaque guarantees that the results will not increase transparency—the ends are the means when it comes to transparency.

You will never increase transparency while shutting out the public, which is what is happening in the largest political decision our city has collectively made in over a decade.

posted by: streever on December 12, 2012  1:03pm

as to standing by your comment: absolutely! As I said, the people doing wrong don’t realize it. Of course you will stand by your view point! You don’t realize that good work done in an underhanded way eliminates the end result.

That is why I compare them to DeStefano. Do you think DeStefano was a vicious, murdering demon? Absolutely not. He is a man who believes he is doing the right thing, and that the public at large doesn’t understand him, so he conducts his business behind closed doors. That is absolutely what CCNE, Perez, Jackie-James, Mills, and Smart are doing as well.

Unless DeStefano is a demon and not a human being, my comparison is apt and accurate. I genuinely believe that DeStefano, Perez, Smart, etc, are all human beings who believe they are doing the right things, and don’t realize that they are actually shutting out citizens and preventing better outcomes.

I think the historical outcomes for New Haven residents and members of the Wards in question bear that theory out.

posted by: PH on December 12, 2012  1:56pm

The wish of this community member is for a smaller board of aldermen.  I look forward to Chairman Smart carrying out my wish.

posted by: streever on December 12, 2012  2:39pm

@PH:
I worry that you will be disappointed. The majority of the board, including the group that Smart works with, has gone on the record in stating that they don’t favor a smaller B of A.

posted by: Curious on December 12, 2012  3:56pm

Streever, what about this?  What if their results go public in a big enough way?

http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/charter_revision_discussion_begins/

posted by: streever on December 12, 2012  4:33pm

@Curious
That would be something!

Personally, I’m concerned that the committee decides what we get to vote on, and does not seem to have any real overlap with the charter conversation the public citizens are having at the Grove.

Why aren’t Bixby (a Green party member), Hereema, or Goode on the Charter Revision Committee? They are so motivated that they are holding their OWN committee meetings and inviting others.

Why were they ignored in favor of a group of people that didn’t take the time to attend their meeting?

This type of opaque decision making is what worries me about the charter review committee. I suspect they will not accomplish anything which improves the average citizens life, because they are not operating in a transparent and above-aboard method from the start.

posted by: dorothy25 on December 12, 2012  5:43pm

@PH

Why are you in favor of a smaller Board of Aldermen?

posted by: darnell on December 14, 2012  1:12pm

Streever,more often than not, you and I are on the same page. But I have been a little concerned about your flip flopping when it comes to certain politicians you seem to not like. You go on about transparency and appearances of conflicts of interests, and don’t have an issue naming names, except when it comes to your chosen people. For instance, you refuse to see the possible conflicts with 3 Achievement First connected people on the Board of Education, since you believe that their connections are tenuous. Yet, you keep connecting Mile Smart to CCNE and the unions and the cash grabbing deals they are making. Where is your proof. I have worked with and beside M. Smart, and know for a fact that he is the most fearlessly independent Alderman on that Board (other than me when I served). Oftentimes, he was the only other vote I had, no one tells Mike what to do. To continue to try to paint him as some stooge to the unions or anyone else is dead wrong.

The alds you fervidly support have not been close to being as independent as Smart. He was his own man when the DeStefano regime controlled the BOA, and is the same now. He has NEVER voted on both sides of an issue, nor misrepresented his position. If Smart does something that I believe is unfair or not in the best interests of the taxpayers, I will be the first to call him out on it.

The committee has had ONE meeting, and already you are attacking this man personally. It would be easy for someone to infer that these attacks are preemptive in relation to the upcoming mayoral election, but I will hold off on making that assumption yet. I would suggest that you stop the unfair attacks on him, before your chosen aldermen suffer the same fate (not from me though, I like your guys).

Either really take to middle road and be fair, or proudly wear the partisan pin and be truthful.

posted by: streever on December 17, 2012  9:39pm

@Darnell
You are blinded by a defense of Smart on this one.

I thanked the NHI for publishing the affiliations of the three people I like, and stated that they should be judged BEYOND what most people are judged.

You’ve wildly misread my comment on this. You may think I’ve “flip-flopped”, but no unbiased reading of my thoughts agrees with that sentiment.

I know the NHI is not in the business of letting people openly disagree, but I don’t know what else to say—you have not only misread my comment, you’ve attributed a position which is not even remotely close to what I’ve written to me.

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