The Board of Aldermen put forward a list of topics to tackle during a once-a-decade chance to change the city’s foundational laws, and a list of people to do the tackling.
Aldermen Monday night advanced two proposals to start the process of revising the city’s charter, which is required every 10 years. One proposal would create a Charter Revision Commission and lay out charter changes the commission would be required to consider; the other would fill out the commission with 13 members.
Both items were moved at the last minute to the level of “First Reading,” which means they will not be sent to an aldermanic committee for further discussion. They will instead be voted on by the full board at the next meeting.
That movement disappointed East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker. He had been pushing for the items to be sent to an aldermanic committee for public hearings, rather than simply voted on by the board.
Alderman Jorge Perez, the board president, said the public has had ample time to nominate Charter Revision Commission members or propose items for the commission to consider, and there are still more opportunities to come for such input.
The list of topics to consider is not exclusive. The commission can consider whatever charter changes it desires. But it will be required to consider the items listed in the resolution that creates it.
Perez said the 13 proposed nominees to the commission and the list of topics to consider were decided on by consensus of the full board, through an informal process. The list of nominees and topics was then officially submitted by the leadership of the Board of Aldermen, a six-member group that includes Perez, the president pro tempore, the majority and deputy majority leaders, and the chair and vice-chair of the Black and Hispanic Caucus.
Perez said some 65 names were submitted for consideration as nominees to the commission. The charter commission is required to have no more than half of its members from the same party, and no more than a third can be elected officials currently in office. Given the fact that New Haven has so few non-Democrats, almost all of the Republicans, Independents, and Greens who were suggested were put on the list of nominated commission members, Perez said.
Aldermen also put forward a list of nine items that the commission should consider. If the full Board of Aldermen approves the list at its next meeting, the commission will be required to consider the items and make recommendations. The commission can also take up whatever other items it wants to, once it’s formed.
On the list of questions to consider:
1. Should the mayor, alderman, city clerk serve four-year terms instead of two-year terms?
2. Should the Registrar of Voters serve a two-year term instead of a four-year term?
3. Should there be term limits for these positions?
4. Should the salaries and stipends of these positions be changed?
5. Should the mayor sit on any city boards or commissions?
6. Should there be more or fewer aldermen? (There are now 30 on the board.)
7. Should the make-up of all boards and commissions be approved by the Board of Aldermen (instead of simply appointed by the mayor)?
8. Should the Board of Ed be an elected, appointed, or hybrid body?
9. Should the Civilian Review board be changed at all, including giving the body more powers?
For discussion of some of these proposals, click here. Further discussion is coming in the weeks and months in which the commission completes its work.
The proposed commissioners are:
• Nilda Aponte, a Fair Haven activist, staffer at All Our Kin, and member of Teach Our Children.
• Kevin Arnold, an East Shore Republican who sits on the Tweed airport Board of Directors.
• Allan Brison, former East Rock alderman and member of the Green party.
• John Cirello, a local attorney
• Alderwoman Delphine Clyburn, who represents Newhallville.
• Arlene DePino, Republican and former East Shore alderwoman.
• Joelle Fishman, chair of the Connecticut Communist Party and member of the New Haven Peace Commission.
• Will Ginsberg, head of the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven
• Melissa Mason, Yale unions’ legislative liaison to the Board of Aldermen
• Carmen Reyes, Fair Haven member of the town Democratic committee
• Alderman Mike Smart, representing Wooster Square
• Alderman Mark Stopa, representing Quinnipiac Meadows
• Elizabeth Torres, member of the Board of Ed.
Both charter revision items were originally placed Monday night on the Board of Aldermen’s “suspension agenda,” a last-minute addendum for time-sensitive matters. They were listed under “Unanimous Consent” on the agenda, fast-tracking them for immediate approval.
Alderman Elicker said he announced in Democratic caucus prior to the full board meeting that he would be opposing unanimous consent. He said he expected that the result would be that the items would be then moved as “communications,” the first stage of the standard process in which new matters are sent to committee for public hearing and a recommendation, then sent to the full board for a vote.
Instead, Hill Alderwoman Jackie James requested at the last minute that the items be put forward as “first readings,” not as communications. President Perez granted the request, skipping the committee stage of the process and setting the items up to be “second readings” to be voted on at the next meeting.
“I’m really disappointed,” said Elicker after the meeting. He said the move leaves the public without an opportunity to shape the commission and its agenda.
Everyone had the ability to submit names for consideration, said Alderwoman James. The charter revision process is time sensitive and needs to get rolling, she said. The board as a whole made a decision to fast-track the item, Elicker was the only one who objected, James said.
Every aldermen was given a month and a half to put in names for consideration, said Perez. The formation of the commission was covered by news articles. Anyone could have picked up the phone and called their alderman and asked to be nominated or suggested a topic for consideration by the commission, he said.
What’s more, anybody can still make changes, Perez said. Amendment can always be made on the floor at the next board meeting. And even after that, people can go to the meetings of the Charter Review Commission and ask the committee to consider whatever charter changes they want, Perez said.
The commission has a lot of work to do and only six or seven months to do it, Perez said. “Why delay it and give the charter less time?”
“Ultimately, if you want the thing to be successful, the public has to be involved in the conversation,” Elicker said. Any proposed changes to the charter will be submitted to a ballot vote by all registered New Haven voters. “If the public feels like it’s a done deal, they’re less likely to support it in the end,” Elicker said.
“The bottom line is, this in an 11th hour item that no one sees. And we vote on it? An item that we do every 10 years? That just seems beyond the pale,” Elicker said. “This is what the mayor usually gets criticized for.”