Press Pool Story
New Britain Democrats are urging a ‘no’ vote on City Charter changes proposed by city’s Republican mayor, Erin Stewart, and the Republican-dominated City Council. Democrats are objecting to the proposals that, if approved, would create a four-year mayoral term and change the way the mayor and other municipal officials can raise their salaries.
The City Charter is the governing document of the city, tantamount to our city constitution. Changing it requires approval by the City Council and by city voters in a referendum. The Council has approved the proposed changes and has placed them before the voters in three, separate ballot questions. The first two questions would increase the term of office of the mayor and tax collector, both currently Republicans, from two to four years, and the third question would make a wide assortment of Charter changes.
However, at its September meeting the 48-member Democratic Town Committee, led by Chair Bill Shortell, unanimously opposed the proposed Charter changes in all three questions.
In a statement, New Britain Democrats said, that “Granting a four-year term to the mayor means there will be less accountability to taxpayers. At a time of property tax increases, higher fees and diminished services there is a need for voter oversight of the executive branch at every municipal election not every other one.”
Stewart has defended this proposed four year term as, “putting it much more in line with other cities throughout the state of Connecticut.”
But the Democrats counter that, “A four-year term with no provision for term limits or recall will upend the checks and balances that currently exist between Mayor and Council that are codified in the City Charter. Unlike the Mayor, the Common Council members would still have to run every two years, a difference that will diminish the oversight and authority of the legislative branch of city government.”
“As important as municipal elections are,” the Democratic statement goes on to say that, “little more than three of 10 eligible voters now participate every two years. In municipal years with no mayoral election, that participation is likely to further decline, making City Hall further removed and less accountable to citizens. Mayoral and Council terms should be the same.”
Despite the significance of the term of office changes proposed in questions 1 and 2, great controversy has surrounded question 3.
“Voters should also say NO to question 3,” the Democrats say, “which is a hodge-podge of 11 changes, some of which are minor, but others that have a direct financial impact on the city.”
Stewart has described question 3 as merely “administrative and technical changes to our charter”. She has said, “I often refer to this as the ‘Not so sexy things that all of that all of you at home are quite interested in, but the things I am interested in from an administrative perspective, making my day to day job a little bit easier,'” such as changing the way water bills are issued.
Democrats, however, object that this question would make it easier for elected officials to increase their taxpayer-funded salaries. “The current charter says that any pay raises have to be done in odd-numbered years, meaning election years,” the Democrats say. “Trying to change the raises to non-election years is hiding them from the voters.”
Democrats go on to say that “the granting of pensions to certain appointed officials and altering the method of assessing water bills constitute more than ‘technicalities’ and need to be decided by voters independently of one another.
“We voters urge NO,” say the Democrats. “Let’s keep municipal government accountable to residents every two years. Say no to longer terms and no to less oversight when it comes to granting pay raises to elected officials.”