By Judith Brown
On Inauguration Day I attended the community meeting at the Russell Library, where Middletown citizens exchanged ideas about the future of our town. It was a great conversation with lots of excellent specific suggestions on different topics. Yet they all had something in common and several people said it: that in order for these great ideas to become reality, Middletown government would have to be more responsive, accountable, and transparent than it is now.
So how do we work together to make this happen? I suggested at the community meeting that we should change the way we elect our city council members. At present all council members are elected at-large. Consequently, it is difficult to hold individual council members accountable for particular decisions that have a diverse impact on different parts of town. Basically, representation that is solely at-large results in less accountable and less transparent government.
Secretary of State, Susan Bysiewicz, who was present, responded that in recent decades a number of city councils across the nation have been compelled by the courts to modify their exclusively at-large representation systems and to replace them either with members who represent specific districts or with a mixture of representatives of specific districts and of the city at-large. One such case involves Port Chester, NY, right on Connecticut’s border. Other nearby towns ordered to change their city councils were Hempstead, on Long Island, and New Rochelle, in Westchester County.
As we head into the next municipal elections, with candidates announcing their intention to run for city council or mayor, let's bring up this idea with all candidates. If they believe in representative and accountable government, government that is in keeping with the intent of the law, they should be in favor of this change. There is much to be said in favor of a city council that includes both district and at-large representation so that both city-wide and district perspectives are represented.
And while we are at it, how about changing council members' terms of office from two years to four years? The election of all council candidates every two years is not only more expensive for taxpayers and candidates, it allows candidates to avoid responsibility. The big problems we face in Middletown, like those in the state and the nation, are too complex to solve in two years. With such short terms, candidates can justly say that they didn't have the time to address the important issues. Let's give them the time and hold them responsible for the decisions they make.