Monday, November 3, 2014

Opinion: Local Votes Matter, The Charter Questions

The following is an idiosyncratic narrative on the Questions on the ballot in tomorrow's election. It is an information piece, but the author makes no claim that it is neutral.  

A previous opinion piece on Questions 2, 3, and 4 was submitted by Tom Serra. 

The Eye welcomes any and all signed commentaries.
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City voters will be asked to vote YES or NO on 4 ballot measures that are specific to Middletown. These 4 questions will be on the right side of the ballot, beneath a statewide question on early voting.

The Charter Revision Questions
A Charter Revision Commission, after about 2 months of work in early summer, proposed a series of changes to the Constitution-like document that determines the most basic parameters of city government. The Common Council considered its recommendations, accepting some, altering others, and dismissing yet others, and then assembling the proposed changes into 3 specific questions. Previous Eye coverage on the Council's deliberations and votes is at the bottom of this post.

Voters have the choice of rejecting or approving the Council-framed questions.

Question 2.  "Shall certain elected officials' terms be four years?" A "YES" vote would mean that the Mayor and the Common Council Members would be accountable to voters every 4 years, instead of the current 2 years. This would also be true for the Board of Assessment Appeals and Registrars of Voters.  The argument in favor is that since elected officials take a long time to learn their job, and many decisions take a long time to impact the city, we would get better governance if politicians did not have to campaign so often. This argument did not apparently sway the framers of the U.S. Constitution, who mandated 2 year terms for the U.S. House of Representatives.
The argument in opposition is that elected officials would have much less contact with residents, as most neighborhoods have a connection to most officials only during election season. Moreover, the Connecticut State Constitution expressly forbids any mechanism for recalling municipal elected officials. In the case of a vacancy, the Council would appoint a replacement for vacant Council positions. With 4-year terms in P&Z, currently only 5 of the 10 Commissioners and alternates were actually elected by voters.
If this passes: Middletown would not save money on elections, as state law requires Board of Education and Planning and Zoning elections every two years. Thus, in 2015, voting would be for the Mayor, all of the Council, half of the Board of Education, and half of the Planning and Zoning Commission, while in 2017, voting would be solely for the other half of the Board of Education, and the other half of P&Z.

Question 3. "Shall the bond limit that the Common Council may approve without going to referendum be raised to $1,000,000?" Bonds are debt by the city. A "YES" vote would mean that the Common Council could borrow up to $1M without asking voters for approval, an increase from the current limit of $750,000.  In practice, the Council often artificially splits a single project and approves two "separate" $750,000 bonds (for example).
If this passes: The council would no longer have to split $1M borrowings into two artificial bonds in order to approve without direct voter input. There is nothing that would prevent them from funding one $2M project with two bonds of $1M each.

Question 4. "Shall all other Charter Revisions as approved by the Common Council be approved?" A "YES" vote would eliminate language about the sheriff from our Charter, would change the title of the Mayors top aide from "Administrative Assistant" to "Chief of Staff", and change the title of the city's top lawyer from "City Attorney" to "General Counsel". These are clerical changes that would not directly affect the duties or pay of anybody.
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Riverfront/Sewer Bonding Question
The original version of this articled stated that Question 5 was related to The River Road sewage treatment plant, but Director Guy Russo wrote us to correct that:

The sewer bonding question is for continuation of Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) work, plus ordinary sewer replacements and water main replacements in the neighborhoods of Old Mill Road, Barbara Road and various side streets. This additional bonding is NOT for the Mattabassett Regionalization Project. The City began, in 1989, addressing CSO issues and this is the last project area to be addressed.

Please correct the article for clarity if possible.

Guy P. Russo
Director of Water & Sewer 

So...

Question 5. "Shall the $7,750,000 appropriation and debt authorization for the planning, design, acquisition and construction of the combined sewer overflow separation program and related water main, sewer main, and road surface relocation and improvements in connection with such program, pursuant to the ordinance adopted by the Common Council on September 2, 2014, be approved?" A "YES" vote would allow the work noted by Director Russo above.  Sorry about that!

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Previous Eye coverage of Charter Revision:

5 comments:

Ed McKeon said...

Thanks for taking the time to expain this Stephen.

Guy P. Russo said...

The sewer bonding question is for continuation of Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) work, plus ordinary sewer replacements and water main replacements in the neighborhoods of Old Mill Road, Barbara Road and various side streets. This additional bonding is NOT for the Mattabassett Regionalization Project. The City began, in 1989, addressing CSO issues and this is the last project area to be addressed.

Please correct the article for clarity if possible.

Guy P. Russo
Director of Water & Sewer

Road2Mars said...

The name change from "City Attorney" to "General Counsel" is silly. If we're going for status, why not "Municipal Attorney General"? A special hat like those of North Korean generals would add lots of pizazz.

I think the title "Middletown City Attorney" was virtually sanctified by the quiet competence, devotion, and impartiality of the late Francis O'Neill.

My speculation is that if our current "general counsel," Brig Smith (a good guy and a good lawyer), had known Fran O'Neill, he would think it an honor to have the same job title.

Anonymous said...

Please refresh our memories. Who are the appointed P&Z members?

Anonymous said...

Devoto was wrong, it is 'only' 4 (2 of 7 regular and 2 of 3 alternates):
•Dan Russo (D) was appointed to replace Carl Chisem. Russo's term expires in 2015.
•Vincent Szynkowicz (R) was appointed to replace Robert Simpson. His term expires in 2017.
•Rob Blanchard (D) was appointed to replace Gary Faraci. His term expires in 2015.
•Phil Pessina ('R') was appointed to replace Jeremy Clark, who won election as both an alternate and a regular member. Pessina's term expires in 2017.