Shelton charter change: Critics at public hearing say revisions only benefit mayor

Shelton City Hall.

Shelton City Hall.

Contributed photo

SHELTON — Proposed charter revisions would eliminate checks and balances and leave all power in the mayor’s hands, say those who spoke at the Charter Revision Commission’s public hearing Wednesday.

The revisions receiving the bulk of opposition included eliminating the Board of Apportionment and Taxation and aligning majority party maximums — highlighted with a Board of Education shift from a near even political split — 5 to 4 — to a heavily weighted 6 to 3.

“I find the majority of your proposal to be an abomination that is transparently designed to cater to the wishes of the current occupant of the mayor’s office,” said Michelle Laubin, a Democrat member of A&T who was speaking as a member.

Laubin was joined by fellow speakers Matt McGee and Wayne Bragg in saying the changes eliminate the checks and balances required for government to function well and in the interests of the people being served.

In all, six people spoke at the two public hearings. The commission will hold its next workshop at 7 p.m. Monday. Residents can view the meeting at the commission’s YouTube channel, SheltonCharter2020.

"This charter revision as currently written weakens minority representation and community oversight against those in power across the board,” said McGee.

Laubin and Bragg called on the commission to reconsider eliminating the A&T, which they say provides the only open examination and debate on the city budget.

“This is flat out wrong,” said Bragg, “I plead with you to rethink this.”

After each person spoke, commission Chair Dan Debicella questioned each, which led to some spirited debate and for Bragg to question whether to even offer his statement.

“You have already made up your mind … this is adversarial and contentious,” said Bragg. “Why should I bother to speak? You shot everybody down.”

At the beginning of the charter revision process, Laubin said she presented examples of other municipalities that have not only an A&T but a true Board of Finance that has much more robust authority to govern the financial aspects of the municipality, separate and apart from the legislative functions of a town council or board of aldermen.

“In response to these examples of good government, you went in exactly the opposite direction and proposed to eliminate the Board of Apportionment and Taxation, leaving only the Board of Aldermen to conduct all the business for the city, together with the mayor, which effectively means that the mayor will have no checks and balances at all,” said Laubin.

Laubin also opposed the commission’s proposal to allow the mayor to make appointments, with the Board of Aldermen supporting his choices. The mayor is Republican; all members on the Board of Alderman are Republicans. The commission, appointed by the Board of Aldermen, is made up of four Republicans, two unaffiliateds and one Democrat. Chair Debicella is a Republican.

“We in Shelton apparently no longer want anyone to participate in municipal government unless they appeal to, and are appointed by, the mayor,” said Laubin.

Since Mayor Mark Lauretti had previously recommended elimination of A&T to the commission, Laubin asked if it was wrong to say commissioners were following his instructions.

“I’m a former state senator. I don’t take anyone’s instructions,” responded Debicella.

McGee challenged the commissioners to “think about someone who does not represent your values. Someone who you often disagree with. Now think about that person being in a position of power within this city. That person who you often disagree with will now have all the powers vested in them by this charter.

“Checks and balances may be considered unnecessary to you all now, but one day you may feel very differently,” added McGee.

Laubin said all pretense of nonpartisanship or bipartisan cooperation will be dispelled by this charter revision.

Debicella said the revisions are designed to put more power in the hands of voters, but Laubin charged that the changes are a “naked consolidation of power, a move in the direction of authoritarianism, and away from democracy.

“One might ask, with this proposal, why bother to have any boards and commissions at all?” asked Laubin. “We apparently no longer value public servants here in Shelton.”