For the first time in a decade, the City Charter, the operating document under which the municipal government runs will be up for review and alteration in a 16-month process that is expected to culminate in the summer of 2019. The City Council on Feb. 12 called for Charter Revision Commission to be empaneled, calling for seven or nine members.
The last time the charter was up for review was 2007-2008. At that time the biggest change made was the allowance of the city to become involved in fire district affairs, something expressly forbidden in the past. That revision led to the dissolution of the Allingtown Fire Dept., and its reorganization as Fire Dept. of West Haven Allingtown.
Chairman of the City Council Ron Quagliani said the process is under the auspices of state statute and that whether it opts for seven or nine members, party affiliation, if it plays a role, will be kept to a minimum.
“Charter revision procedure is regulated by state statute 7-188. The commission can only be comprised of a simple majority for any one party. For example if it is a nine-member commission it can be 5 Democrats, 4 other – Republican, unaffiliated, etc. or 5 Republican, 4 other – Democrat, unaffiliated, etc” he said.
Under the resolution passed Feb. 12, the commission is to sit for 16 months and have a draft report filed with the City Clerk no later than July 6, 2019.
”The City Council then will vote to accept or reject each change, group the recommended changes together by category, and formulate questions to appear on the general election ballot for November 2019 for the citizens to decide,” Quagliani said. “Each question is voted on separately on the ballot to avoid voting down the entire recommended charter revisions should one area not be accepted.”
Quagliani said the council is hoping the commission that is seated will have a make-up commensurate with the look of the city’s population.
“The City Council’s hope is to seat a Commission that is representative of our population in terms of age, gender, race, ethnicity and political affiliation.” He said. “It is important that interested residents please apply so we have a large pool of interested residents to choose from.”
As far as his own preferences, Quagliani is hoping some topics under discussion will include:
Term limits – I believe the mayor’s position should be changed to two 4-year terms for a maximum of eight years of service as the mayor to improve continuity and allow appropriate time to adapt to the position.
“The current two year term is too frequent. In my opinion, the mayor needs to focus full time on running the city instead of running for election every two years,” he said.
Similarly, he is hoping the term limits on the council can be adjusted to coincide with those of the mayor, but with one twist.
Quagliani supports staggered terms for City Council similar to the Board of Education continuity is kept, rather than a new council seated every two years.
Quagliani is hoping language changes to move the dates the budget needs to be passed by to Mid-June from the beginning of May to allow more time to get accurate revenue numbers from State and Federal sources as well as a simple majority (7 votes) to change a budgetary line item during budget deliberations (9 votes out of 13 are currently needed).
Quagliani would like the charter to eliminate the default mechanism in the city budget process.
“If the City Council rejects the mayor’s recommended budget, it should not go into effect by default but returned to the mayor for changes and re-submission to the City Council,” he said.
Other changes he like to see are the removal of the mandate to have various departments.
“Business practices change and I believe there are city departments that can be combined,” he said.
Much of the charter revision process is dictated by state law, which has required minimums. Quagliani is hoping the new commission will go beyond the minimum.
“The Charter Revision Commission by Statute must hold two public hearings to get input from residents, one prior to any substantive work commencing and one when their draft report is completed,” he said. “I would also strongly encourage the commission to include public comment as part of each Charter Revision Commission meeting as well.”
Quagliani said he expects the charter will be reviewed “cover to cover.” He’s hoping the changes will not only be topical, but bigger questions posed separately.
”I would recommend that significant changes such as term limits (should that be a recommendation of the commission) be a stand-alone question,” he said.
Under the resolution, the City Council will receive the draft report no later than July 6, 2019. A public notice of the recommended changes is required to be placed in the newspaper and the City Council will hold meetings on the recommended changes to approve/reject the changes and formulate ballot questions. The questions would then appear on the next general election ballot in November 2019. A question is deemed approved by a simple majority of the electors where at least 15 per cent of the electors of the municipality as determined by the last-completed active registry list vote on that question.
Once the voters have had their say, the new changes in the document go into effect.
Right now the city is looking for residents interested in becoming part of the process.
Quagliani is encouraging any West Haven electors interested in serving on the Charter Revision Commission to apply.
Candidates are advised that the newly established commission will require a 16-month commitment with a minimum of one evening meeting per week.
Anyone interested can send a resume and cover letter to the Office of the City Council, 355 Main St., where they are due by 5 p.m. Monday. Documents can also be emailed to [email protected].