Charter Revision issue put to voters, Nov. 3
The residents of West Haven will have a very important question to answer on Nov. 3. Election Day this year goes beyond the candidates, both national and state, on the ballot. Some 17 months after the Charter Revision Commission submitted its final report, and some 25 months after it had its first working session, voters are asked to approve the question.
This is the text of what voters will be asked to approve or deny:
“Shall the City of West Haven amend its current Charter as recommended by the Charter Revision Commission in its final report submitted on September 27, 2019, which changes include but are not limited to: (1) changing to a City Council/Town Manager form of government; (2) establishing minimum qualification requirements for management positions; (3) changing the Tax Collector, City Clerk, and Treasurer from elected to appointed positions; (4) changing from biennial to quadrennial elections for all elected officials; (5) reducing the number of local voting districts from 10 to 3; (6) the Board of Education will consist of nine members three from each district with one minority party member in each district; (7) changing from mandatory to permissible appointments of department heads, boards and commissions?”
Just a cursory glance at the proposal shows there are major changes on the way should it get approved. The city will decrease the role of the mayor in favor of a professional city manager; requirements for what have been political payback positions will require professional credentials; posts heretofore elected will be appointed; terms will be raised from two to four years; new districting is in place with more minority party representation; changes will be made to the Board of Education (first time since the 1970s); and appointments will become optional.
The current City Charter has been in force since 1960, when the “Town” of West Haven went from a Board of Selectmen form of governance to a mayor-council. The Charter Revision Commission looked at the way things have run over the last six decades and determined a major revision is necessary. There is no arguing that West Haven’s list of problems has been exacerbated by a political structure that learned quickly how to game the system.
This new charter is an attempt to keep a political structure, while taking the influence of politics out of the equation as much as possible, hence the derogation of the mayor’s office to a near first-selectman status, more power vested in the City Council and the day-to-day operation of the city handled by a paid professional. This is a radical departure from what politicians are used to gaming.
We have every reason to suspect that while there is not an overt opposition to these changes, those efforts are at least covert. Already we are hearing about the lack of input by the voters, when, in fact, the City Council, which is nearest to the voter is given more authority, and, hence, more accountability.
Let’s face the fact the current structure has, at least in part, led to the financial quagmire we have faced for the last three decades. Politicians do not want to do the dirty deed of fiscal responsibility unless forced. We have been forced twice in the recent past by state overseers.
Some may see our optimism on this restructuring as inconsistent with our anti-Progressive stance over the years. Not so. We see the elected officials nearest the people as more accountable to those people and not to party.
There will be opposition to this, as we said more covert than overt. Politicians know the system and how to game it, they don’t want to learn a new game.