West Haven voters have many choices to make this Election Day, Nov. 3, but one that will be most associated with their day-to-day lives is just as important. Some 17 months after the Charter Revision Commission reported back to the City Council, voters get to decide if the city’s governmental structure will take a very different turn.
On the ballot is a “yay or nay” vote that will transform the city’s governance from a mayor-council form to one that will see ordinary administrative duties handed off to a city manager, with a mayor who will be head of a reformed – and more powerful – City Council.
In its 18-month review of the city’s charter, the Charter Revision Commission, headed by Edward Granfield and John Carrano, did a deep dive into the document, which outlines how the city does everything from vote for an ordinance, to pass a budget, to how and why people are hired for various positions.
The current charter, with some revisions over the years, transformed the “Town of West Haven” from a selectman-representative town meeting formula, to the current mayor-council. This new charter would transform the city to a city manager form of government, hiring a professional administrator under the direction of a new City Council, headed by the mayor.
But the transformation would not end there. The document calls for melding the city’s 10 municipal districts into three, with three representatives per district, along with at least one minority representative, giving minority party voters some say.
The document further changes the Board of Education, requires the positions of City Clerk, Tax Collector and Treasurer from elected to appointed positions, and requiring appointments to other professional positions have some training or expertise in the department for which they are hired.
Granfield said the hope was for a long introductory process for the voters, but as with much else in life, COVID-19 changed the calculus.
“Due to the Pandemic crisis, the preliminary game plan which included a blend of neighborhood meetings in conjunction with a live town hall type power point presentations were shelved,” Granfield said. “Then with the increase of absentee voting, which starts on or about Oct 2, the committee had to reconsider any/all conventional methods and timelines. We were able to meet twice since Labor Day weekend to develop a public education effort.”
That effort includes an interactive web site, supported by three full-page ad campaign and at least one citywide mailing, “along with as much free press as we can hope to generate.”
Granfield has headed an Education Committee by direction of the City Council, and believes given the circumstances, all that can be done is.
Public meetings are not scheduled prior to Nov. 3 as much of this was done prior to COVID, and after the report was delivered to the Council.
“We do not have on-line meetings scheduled, this was ratified by the City Council last year after four public hearings and 28 working commission meetings that were open to the public,” Granfield said. “The logistics of conducting on-line meetings requires time, resources, and availability of key members, and historically that format becomes a debate on a document and question that has already been vetted and approved for the voters to act on, nothing at this point can be changed.”
The chairman indicted thewebsite is interactive and comprehensive, and residents interested in the nuts and bolts of this effort will get a good look at what is proposed.
“It includes a FAQ section, both versions of the report, along with the ability to email us with any questions voters may raise. It also includes a live feed of the CRC final public hearing July 1 2019,” said Granfield.
The time lag between the delivery of the document and the vote, almost a year-and-a-half, was due to the decision not to put the city through an expensive one-time election. The decision was made to use the Nov. 3 election as a more efficient and inexpensive way of handling the matter.
“Obviously in a perfect world a more comprehensive approach would have been taken, but in that perfect world this would have been voted on last year when most of this was fresh and on the minds of voters who were following this effort,” Granfield said.
The extensive nature of the revision has made some uncomfortable, and against the matter. Granfeidl admits there are some – including the political class – who have expressed opposition. Much of that is being hashed out on various social media sites. It has Granfield’s attention.
“My biggest concern might be inaccurate social media posts by detractors. There are some in this community, usually tied to the political power base, that will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo in this town. These folks are not interested in city progress, policy, or change in any size shape or form, they are only interested in maintaining local power and their political influence,” he said. “ I have no problem with anyone, who after learning about the proposal, makes an educated decision pro or con. But in today’s world the disinformation crowd is leading the debate on far too many issues of importance.
Granfield said the revision is “by far the most comprehensive effort in our city history since its incorporation, and will be the most important vote that takes place related to West Haven in our time.”
Granfield has a message for all residents after the work done by the Charter Revision Commission.
“We have been doing things in the exact same manor since 1960, the only thing that truly changes are the players, the game remains the same. Times have changed, its time for West Haven to change too,” he said finally.