Back to the drawing board: Voters reject Shelton charter changes

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — City voters have resoundingly denied proposed revisions to the City Charter, according to unofficial tallies provided by the Republican Town Committee that do not yet include all absentee ballots.

Residents — by more that twice as many votes — denied proposed changes which included elimination of the Board of Apportionment and Taxation, increase of party maximums for elected positions, formation of a citywide technology committee and allowing the aldermen to bond 3 percent of the municipal budget without referendum.

“It was a surprising vote ... it defies logic,” Mayor Mark Lauretti said about the decision that came on a night where Republicans dominated the vote counts for all races.

Lauretti said the vote means the city will operate under the same charter under which, he said, Shelton has enjoyed strong economic growth.

“For all the dissidents out there ... the ones who can’t win elections ... saying I was consolidating power, there would have been no change to the charter with respect to the mayor’s authority,” Lauretti said. “Forget about me, this power was in there more than 30 years ago. That is one of the reasons the city has had so much success.”

Opponents from both parties joined to form a bipartisan political action committee, Envision Shelton, headed by former Assistant Superintendent of Schools Lorraine Rossner, to urge voters to deny the changes as presented.

“The charter revisions that were proposed were ill-conceived, and the voters recognized it,” Mark Holden, a Republican and member of Envision Shelton, said Tuesday evening.

Holden credited the Envision Shelton team for coming together and putting political differences aside to fight against changes proposed to the city charter that just “went too far.”

“We really took the politics out of it ... hammering home to people that we are a bipartisan group, a group of people who are just concerned citizens,” Rossner said. “We wanted to give people honest answers about what the ramifications could be from these changes. I feel like people really appreciated that approach.”

“Voters overwhelming rejected the mayor’s power grab of our boards, commissions and elimination of checks and balances,” Jimmy Tickey, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said. “Shelton will be better for having rejected this ill conceived charter revision.”

The Board of Aldermen had formed the Charter Revision Commission, which prepared the revisions. The aldermen then, after some minor changes, approved the proposed revisions to go before the voters Tuesday. Unlike in some communities, Shelton residents were asked to approve all or none, rather than each change by itself.

Board of Aldermen President John Anglace Jr. called the vote “pretty decisive.”

Alderman David Gidwani, a member of Envision Shelton and a vocal opponent of the charter changes, credited the residents for its defeat.

“Thank you ... Republicans, Democrats and Independents,” Gidwani said. “We worked together with Envision Shelton, now we move on to 2021 for a better Shelton.”

Fellow Alderman Anthony Simonetti credited the opposition’s use of social media to get its opinions about the revisions to the public, saying it was “well done.” But Simonetti found fault with the opposition’s claim that approving the revisions would lead to tax increases, something he called an “out-and-out lie.”

When asked about the next step, Simonetti said no discussions have been had concerning how to proceed if the revisions were denied at the ballot box.

Lauretti said the group muddled voters with claims of tax increases if the charter revisions were passed. He also rebuked claims that the revision increase of the party maximum for the Board of Education would make the board partisan.

“It is already partisan,” Lauretti said. “The old charter did not prevent a partisan board. Education is partisan.”

Lauretti also called A&T a “waste of everyone’s time which does nothing for the public.” He said the Board of Aldermen is the city’s financial authority, and A&T, with an essentially appointed structure, 3 to 3, with the mayor as the deciding vote if necessary, is a duplication of efforts.

Social media had been abuzz for weeks on the revisions, with supporters saying the changes would increase voter choice and power in the process and opponents charging that the revisions were Lauretti’s apparent push to consolidate power and limit checks and balances.

Rossner said the revisions were an attempt to “concentrate all decision-making authority in the hands of the mayor and Board of Aldermen,” a charge Lauretti and members of the committee denied.