Four-Year Terms Find Favor

Thomas MacMillan PhotoMayors and aldermen should face the voters once every four years, not every two years, a group working on revisiting the city’s charter is recommending. And “aldermen” should officially become gender-neutral “alders.”

Those recommendations emerged at City Hall Thursday evening in presentations by three sub-committees within the Charter Revision Commission. Commissioner Arlene DePino shared the four-year term recommendation.

The 15-member commission is charged with the decennial task of examining the city’s most basic legal document—the New Haven Charter—and determining what, if any, changes ought to be made to it. The group’s recommendations will be sent to the Board of Aldermen, which will vote on whether to place any recommended changes on the November election ballot, for a citywide referendum.

In order to tackle the more than two dozen suggested changes that the commission has to consider, it has split into three working groups, dubbed Groups A, B, and C. The working groups have been meeting separately during the month of March. On Thursday, they gathered in City Hall to share their progress.

While many proposed changes remain to be dealt with, a number of draft recommendations were revealed at Thursday’s briefing. The commission will reconvene as a whole on April 9 to begin its final deliberations, including voting on the recommendations that come out of the working groups.

The hottest topic of charter revision, whether to switch from an appointed Board of Ed to one that’s full or partially elected, has not been settled by its working group. Instead it has only become more complex, morphing from a three-option choice into a panoply of possible permutations.

Here are some highlights from the working groups’ presentations:

4-Year Terms: Former East Shore Alderwoman DePino (pictured) said that Group B voted 4 to 1 to recommend that mayoral and aldermanic terms be extended from from two years to four. DePino said Group B decided that change should be effective Jan 1, 2016. The mayor who takes office in 2014 would still serve a two-year term.

Proponents of such a change say that it would allow elected officials to govern and develop an agenda without being in a state of perpetual campaigning. Opponents say two-year terms mean voters can hold officials more accountable.

State law does not allow the city to impose term limits for elected officials.

All Aboard: DePino said Group B is also recommending that “the mayor shall serve on all commissions and boards and have voting authority except as follows: Civil Service, Ethic, City Planning.”

City Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden said this would not be a large change. He pointed to Article V, Section 12f of the charter, which lists as one of the mayor’s duties: “To be a member, so long as there is no conflict with state law, of all boards or commissions established pursuant to state law, this charter, city ordinance or executive order … but excepting the civil service board.” The only change therefore would be to prevent the mayor to serve on the Board of Ethics or the City Plan Commission.

No Men, No Women: Group B is also recommending that the language of the charter be made gender neutral, including changing all reference to s “alderman” to “alder.”

More $$ For Aldermen: DePino said Group B is also recommending that the stipend for aldermen be increased by some amount. “We have not determined what that number would be,” she said.

Aldermen currently earn about $2,000 a year for serving on the board.

This recommendation does not, however, appear to fall within the purview of the commission, as the amount that aldermen are paid is not enshrined in the charter, but in city ordinance. Article XXXVI, Sect. 208 of the charter states that “The salary of each elected officer … shall be set by ordinance by the board of aldermen … but only upon the recommendation of the mayor.”

And the aldermen themselves have not been pushing for a raise.

Newhallville Alderwoman Delphine Clyburn (at right in photo below), a member of the commission, said after Thursday’s meeting that she’s opposed to a pay increase: “With the kind of budget we’re in, I don’t think that should be so.”

If the pay were to go up, “people will take it like a part-time job,” Clyburn said. “I do it because I love it. I have my own job.”

CRB: Joelle Fishman (pictured), facilitator for Group C, said her group is recommending that the charter include language enshrining the existence of the Civilian Review Board, which is charged with reviewing complaints against the police. The board now exists only by ordinance. By state law, the board cannot have subpoena power, as some people had requested during public hearings earlier this year.

Residency Points: Group C is also recommending that the charter include language encouraging all city departments to hire New Haven residents, and that New Haveners get extra 10 points on entrance examinations when being considered for a city job.

Still 30 Aldermen: Group A reported that it has decided not to recommend a change to the size of the Board of Aldermen, as some had suggested.

Aldermanic Approval: Group A is also recommending that all mayoral appointees to boards and commissions be subject to approval by the Board of Aldermen.

Boards Of Ed: Melissa Mason, the facilitator of Group A, described the progress her group has made on tackling what as emerged as perhaps the most difficult and charged question of charter revision: Whether to shift from an appointed Board of Ed to one that’s fully or partially elected.

Mason described several options Group A is looking at: 1) A fully elected seven-member board. 2) A board of five elected members and two appointed by the mayor. 3) An expanded nine-member board comprising five appointed by the mayor and approved by the Board of Aldermen, two elected, and two students. 4) A board of seven members appointed by the mayor and approved by the Board of Aldermen.

Mason also presented a number of other variations and questions to consider: Elected members could be elected “at large” by the whole city, or they could be elected by district. Students could be elected to staggered two-year seats by the citywide student council, or they could be elected to one-year terms by all city high school students. Should they be given full voting power? Should they have support from Board of Ed staff? The charter could also place requirements and qualifications on mayoral appointees, including geographic requirements. Or a partially elected Board of Ed could appoint members to itself. With an elected board, can non-citizen New Haven parents of public school students be given the right to vote for Board of Ed members?

“It’s always an option to do nothing,” said Commissioner Brian Perkins, a former appointed Board of Ed chairman.

“We’ve heard a lot of testimony calling for some change,” said Mason. “We’ve also heard testimony for keeping it the same. We are thinking about a full spectrum, but we are aware of what we have.”

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posted by: Curious on March 22, 2013  8:59am

A four year term NEEDS to come hand-in-hand with a four-term limit.

posted by: Atwater on March 22, 2013  9:06am

Alders? That is a type of tree. Alderman and Alderwoman are fine. The term is historical and reminds us of our city’s democratic foundation; it does not need to be changed.
Also, I am surprised that Aldermen are paid at all. Service on the Board is a duty of citizenship and members should not be expected to gain any financial reward.
Finally, the term limits for Aldermen should remain the same. But, no one person should be allowed to sit for more than two terms. This ensures a fair rotation of representatives.

posted by: David S Baker on March 22, 2013  9:08am

A pay increase should definitely happen for the BOA.  Currently if they attend all meetings and sub committees and community functions they operate at a loss even WITH free city-wide parking.  The very least we can do is make this a break even obligation. 

How?  Create a pay increase but with a provision that it is “attendance based” pay. Private institutions do with board of trustee/corporator pay.  Also a child/elder care incentive would not break the bank and would encourage attendance as well.  Flat rate for showing up.  Supplemental incentives for community functions and work on comittees.

posted by: Curious on March 22, 2013  9:12am

David Baker, this is great:  “Create a pay increase but with a provision that it is ‘attendance based’ pay.”

posted by: DRAD on March 22, 2013  9:19am

@Atwater - thank you.

posted by: DingDong on March 22, 2013  9:35am

They should be paid a bit more. Or if an alder has kids (think of single-parents), the cost of child-care would be prohibitive. 

As for the name change, what will happen to the adjective “aldermanic”?  Does it because “alderic”?  Is “alderwomanic” now a word?

posted by: anonymous on March 22, 2013  9:56am

Why not Alderperson?

posted by: SaveOurCity on March 22, 2013  10:47am

some good work and good discussion is producing some good ideas.  But please don’t waste time and energy on the ‘alders’ issue - the purpose of these commissions is to improve our city governance.  We spend enough time debating nonsense already

posted by: lawrence st on March 22, 2013  11:20am

I’m glad to see that the commission is doing such a thorough job! They are really taking people’s comments into account, and delving into every issue.

posted by: Webblog1 on March 22, 2013  11:34am

Depino- 4-Year Term:

“Proponents of such a change say that it would allow elected officials to govern and develop an agenda without being in a state of perpetual campaigning”.

What a lame-ass excuse for perpetuating term extensions which have stood for 100 years in New Haven without any prior complaint of a “state of perpetual campaigning”.

Indeed… the current Mayor made no such complaint when he perpetually was AOL for ten months in 2006, engaged in a primary with Malloy and followed by a walloping by Jodi Rell in the general election.

The Mayor then proceeded to perpetually engage in a general election for Mayor against Ferrucci and republican Elser in 2007. With no apparent problem with developing any agenda.

In the final analysis, we have a board of aldermen appointing commissioners, who in turn reward the aldermen with a special interest gift, four year term, pushed by an ex- alderwoman, Depino.

This recommendation will justly be rejected by the voters, as it was in 2003.

posted by: Mark Oppenheimer on March 22, 2013  12:54pm

This is huge: “Residency Points: Group C is also recommending that the charter include language encouraging all city departments to hire New Haven residents, and that New Haveners get extra 10 points on entrance examinations when being considered for a city job.”

Right now, an extraordinary portion of our well-paid, often-unionized workers take their hard-earned salaries…and spend them on homes in the suburbs, shopping in the suburbs, etc. In New York City and elsewhere, there is an institutional preference for hiring residents. And that’s a good thing. In New Haven, such a preference would tend toward more racial and socioeconomic diversity in our workforce, putting it in line with the jobs pipeline. It would also, if it led to more police officers living in the city, increase our safety, and the trust between residents and those who police them. And it’s a good thing when teachers, too, live near the schools they serve: at my daughter’s school, it’s a terrific bonus that some of the teachers are neighborhood residents.

All in all, a great plank for charter reform: not an iron-clad residency requirement, but extra points toward getting the job. Three cheers!

posted by: robn on March 22, 2013  1:54pm

Not cutting the board in half and appropriately compensating them is. Deal breaker for me personally. I wonder then if the changes will be lumped at the ballot or line item? Since the union coalition is so expert at rigging questions (the recently discovered push polling of their membership) I suspect discrete lumps.

posted by: DingDong on March 22, 2013  4:10pm

Robn, What’s this about push-polling?  I missed that story.

posted by: Atwater on March 22, 2013  4:17pm

You know what the appropriate compensation is for an Alderman/Alderwoman? A firm hand shake and a pat on the back. A non-paid local legislature is perfectly sufficient for the City of New Haven, or at least it should be. Term limits are essential. Each Alderman (woman) should only be allowed to sit for two terms. The Mayor should be limited to two terms as well.

posted by: anonymous on March 22, 2013  4:29pm

Mark O is absolutely correct - relatively few of our city workers live in New Haven, and when you subtract Westville & East Shore from the equation, the disparities are even more shocking.

posted by: robn on March 22, 2013  4:39pm


Refer to CURIOUS’s screenshots in this comment thread.

posted by: DingDong on March 22, 2013  4:43pm

So how about this for alder compensation: free child care on nights you attend board meetings or similar events and also a free CT Transit pass?  Nothing else.

posted by: Charl on March 22, 2013  5:48pm

Every single elected office, from local to county to state to federal should have imposed ONE term limit. 

This would completely change the paradigm of politics and would imntbho, do away with so much of the nepotism, graft, corruption, and outright theft that define modern-day politics at all levels in these United States.

SERVING as an elected official should be just that…NOT a CAREER.  This would force so many more individuals to actually become informed and active in the politics and government of their city, their state, and their nation.  Many more people would serve. 

The argument that “Well, some people who do an excellent job should be allowed to serve for multiple terms, think about the loss it would be if they could only serve one term” is a bogus argument.  Someone else will replace that great elected official.  And if that replacement does a lousy job, then that individual will be replaced with someone else.

Again, other than the argument cited above, what could possibly be the debate over instilling one-term limits for all elected positions at every level?

posted by: Stephen Wilcox on March 22, 2013  6:57pm

I am confused by the proposal to put two high school students on the Board of Ed.  The Board of Ed. are the teacher’s and principal’s bosses. They hire and fire them. This would essentially make these students their teachers’ boss. The Board of Ed. routinely meets behind closed doors to discuss confidential personal matters involving employees. Students could easily spread this confidential information around the schools. Are these students just going to observe public meetings or are they going to be full voting members? Most high school students are not old enough to vote. I would think the teacher’s union would fight this.

It is also interesting there is no proposal to put a teacher on the Board of Ed.

As far as four-year terms are concerned, if two years are good enough for the House of Representatives in Washington then two years are fine for New Haven alders and the mayor. We need more democracy in New Haven not less.

posted by: ElmCityVoice on March 22, 2013  7:42pm

Let’s get back to the most important revision, the Board of Ed which is most critical to our community since our kids are involved. There should definitely be an elected board. New Haven is the only city in Connecticut that ddoesn’tave at the very least a hybrid board. Now, there are people on the board who have been there for over 20 years! The board is not another administrative job. City voters have a right to choose people who show interest in children and are well informed on education issues and can think for themselves, rather than be rubber stamps for any mayor.

posted by: Seth Poole on March 22, 2013  10:17pm

Charter revision is, with great reasoning, a hot topic in this year’s election process.  We are at the dawn of great change in a city that has operated on set of antiquated rules.  Term limits must change.  Regardless of the language, alderwoman, alderman, alderperson or alder, our elected officials should not be doing the work for financial gain.  They should be paid for making improvements to the system.  Sitting quietly in the aldermanic chamber and nodding in the affirmative when they know that they should have been challenging the status quo for the greater good of their respective constituencies had become the acceptable norm for decades.  They should do more for the greater good of the people, not for the money.  If more money is what they want, then they should do exceptional work to earn any increase in pay.
I could not be any more in favor of residencey points.  The people who have weathered the storm as residents amidst all of the favoritism should be given an advantage in the pursuit of livable wage employment.
The BOA is in dire need of transparency.  Students should have a voice, as well as parents.  Parents who do not reside in New Haven should not have voting power because they do not contribute enough to the tax base in the city in order to receive a vote.  I would encourage them to move back to the city so that their young people can take advantage of programs like the New Haven Promise.  Both the community and the schools will benefit from an influx of supportive parents who move to the city because they want the best for their children.

posted by: robn on March 22, 2013  11:29pm

You get what you pay for. Cut the BOA in half, cut the support staff and use the difference to pay them a professional wage. New Haven deserves lawmakers who at a minimum, understand the law and you’re just not going to get that for $2000/year. To those who suggest no compensation I suggest that this kind of system encourages dilettantes and gentlemen politicians or even worse, fools in the pocket of special interest.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 23, 2013  2:46pm

How about puting Proportional Representation on the table.

posted by: streever on March 23, 2013  11:05pm

Interestingly, the term *is* historical: it is only for the last 1000 years that the etymology of alderman was used to refer to males. The word was gender-neutral for nearly 2000 years!

Alderman is an old germanic word, with the connotation of being a chief magistrate of the king. Honestly, if you’re going to replace it, instead of a feel-good attempt to “de-gender it” (it already is gender neutral, if you know your etymology), why not just get rid of a word that meant “the people who beat the garbage out of everyone else for the King”?

The word has held municipal connotations for less time than it has principally been gendered.

Why not go with “Earl” or “Count”, as other groups did?

I agree with Oppenheimer: good job on building out the residency carrot!

I also agree with Robn. 30 alders is ridiculous. Cut it in half, or even in thirds, and pay them better.

One of the Dominant Majority alders told me that was an inherently racist idea, cutting the board, which is actually a very offensive statement because it presumes that no one from a poor neighborhood would be capable of running in a larger pool. I was being polite, so I didn’t explain to her that she had just said one of the most offensive and ridiculous things I’d ever heard, but I did mention that—historically—“representation” doesn’t mean much in New Haven.

The neighborhoods that have been poor for 50 years would love to hear that they are “well represented”. Get real! Only upper middle class Yalie idealists can feel that New Havens impoverished are well-represented. If they were well-represented, they might not be suffering the way they are to this day.

posted by: ElmJackCity on March 23, 2013  11:46pm

So I guess actual term limits was shelved?  It seems absolutely necessary to me to limit the mayoral tenure to three four-year terms.  I believe the same should apply to our Alders.  No one person needs lead a city for longer than a decade.  Political leadership was designed to be a temporary venture so as to preclude the kind of autocratic regimes that we find in New Haven governance. 

If you want change then make change mandatory.  Stop the graft and corruption and demand for a capped set of terms be applied to our charter.  It will reduce corruption and increase civic participation.

posted by: ElmCityVoice on March 24, 2013  5:12pm

Let’s get back to another issue. The BOA is not nearly as important as the BOE unless you don’t have children in New Haven schools. The mayor runs the school system, the housing department, the police department, etc. You get the drift. At the risk of repeating myself, we are the only school district in the state that has a completely appointed BOE. Do we want another control freak who gets to pick all the players? Do we trust mayors more than we trust ourselves?

posted by: HhE on March 24, 2013  6:21pm

$2000 is not a pay cheque, it is a stipend. 

If an Alder attends two meets per week, and stays 2 1/2 hours (we can allow for travel?), and takes two weeks off a year, then they “make” $8 per hour.

posted by: Edward Francis on March 24, 2013  9:16pm

“New Haveners get extra 10 points on entrance examinations when being considered for a city job.”

Great idea, however, there is no guarantee that those hired with the “10 extra” points will continue to live in New Haven.  Judging from the past many who lived in the city when they were hired eventually move to the outskirts and they didn’t get “10 extra” points when taking the exam.

It looks good on paper but in reality the past record speaks for it-self. When we hire police and firefighter’s and for that matter anyone else we certainly want the cream of the crop based on the job descripions and the outcome of the civil service exams.  Just my opinion!