By Edward Granfield
Chairman, Charter Revisions Commission
The West Haven Charter Revision Commission has reached what we consider our midpoint in the process and is conducting a review of our work to date. Our approach from day one was to review every aspect of the City Charter, chapter and verse.
We did got to a slow start, contrary to my goal as chairman to “hit the ground running.” That was due in no small part to a couple of things: most of the members chosen were not familiar with one another, and most were limited in first-hand knowledge of how our city operates. None came in with a specific agenda.
When I accepted the chairmanship, I thought my primary role would be to insure the integrity of the process, and to protect the commission from the influence of the local politicians, which I`m happy to say has not been an issue so far. But, because of the factors mentioned, we had to work entirely as a group, rather than break down into subcommittees. That has slowed the process down. However, once we got into a groove the meetings became very productive. Everyone is engaged and contributing.
It’s early to discuss specific recommendations as so much of our work has been updating extremely antiquated language within the charter. That said, we have looked at more than 20 communities, statewide and nationally, that were similar to our own in population/demograghics to see how we operate by comparison. Significant changes in how the city conducts its political and financial business are definitely on the horizon.
It is important for residents to understand we are not empowered by state law to change the charter, we make recommendations to the City Council, which then decides what/if any of our recommendations will be placed on the ballot for the voters to decide. This in my view is a fatal flaw in the process. We spend up to16 months reviewing and researching this document and recommend changes to the elected body we want to change. It can take 30 days and reserve the right not to act on any of it. That makes no sense to me. What are the odds of the folks in power supporting our efforts to make the political changes necessary to change the culture within city government that has once again led us to this point?
You may recall back in 2002, I was involved in WDRC, West Haven Democrats and Republicans for Change. We were pushing for Charter Revision, specifically our political process. At the time I was working with then Lt Gov. Jodi Rell and State Rep. Ray Collins on updating the state statutes regarding Charter Revision.
Naturally, it was held up in committee indefinitely. In our opinion, when a city empowers a Charter Revision Commission, once its work is complete, the entire body of work should be brought directly to the people for a vote, not to the elected officials that have the most to lose.
I informed the commission last night that after election day I`m calling in all of our newly elected state representatives to revisit this topic once again. Mayor Rossi and City Council Chairman Quagliani have both visited with us and submitted written recommendations for our review. Both have stepped back to allow us the time required to do our work, for that I am grateful to them. In addition the leaders of both political parties have been advised they can submit recommendations for our review.
Through the mayor’s office the city department heads are also all aware of us and welcome to contribute if they choose. Some have, most haven’t. Many of the mayor‘s and chairman’s suggestions have been given serious consideration and may be implemented. But in order to insure we`ll have a fighting chance when we submit our report to the council, I won’t be inserting recommended changes into the report unless our panel is 100 percent united in the change.
Nothing is set in stone yet, but four-year terms, fewer voting districts, adding qualifications to city management positions, city management, changing some elected positions to appointed ones, increasing minority party representation on the council, reorganizing the management organizational chart, public voting on large city projects and bonding ordinances along with many more topics are still being discussed.
One near and dear to me will be the creation of a Commission of Ethics and Compliance, a body of which no one member can be part of the political process at any level, but would have oversight authority regarding compliance with the city charter as well as ethics. Over the years a number of significant methods of how we conduct city business are actually not allowed under the current charter.
There is an Ethics Board in place. We want to redesign and empower it. Once we receive a final legal opinion on this from the Secretary of State’s office, I hope to include it as part of our recommendation. We have, through the mayor’s office, also asked for a representative from the Municipal Accountability Review Board to visit with us to discuss any structural changes the panel feels may be necessary to insure this city`s long term financial health. To date I haven’t heard back from the commission.
We have until next July to complete our work and submit a report to the City Council, but I believe we may be able to wrap this up by late spring of 2019. Any changes approved by the voters next fall would not go into effect until 2021. This effort is not about the current power structure. Our focus is the next generation of Westies.
What we do here will be our legacy to them.