Shelton charter revisions now before aldermen
SHELTON — The Charter Revision Commission handed its final document to the Board of Aldermen with changes that will give more power to voters, said commission Chair Dan Debicella.
The commission, at its meeting July 8 at City Hall, unanimously voted to move the proposed changes to the city board. Commission members presented the reasons behind their recommendations to the aldermen July 15 in the City Hall auditorium.
“The voters will have more power,” said Debicella.
The Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing on the charter revisions on Thursday, July 23, at 6 p.m. at City Hall. The public can attend to make comments or send comments via email to the aldermen’s clerk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any changes must be approved by the voters come November.
The debate over what to change in the charter has been heated. The revisions receiving the bulk of opposition included eliminating the Board of Apportionment and Taxation and transferring those financial responsibilities to the aldermen, the city’s fiscal authority.
The commission also increased 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. The Planning and Zoning Commission would also be expanded from six to seven members.
The commission also proposes increasing the level of bonding the Board of Aldermen can do without a referendum from 2 percent to 3 percent.
Democrat A&T member Michelle Laubin has been a vocal critic of the proposed changes. At the commission’s public hearing, Laubin called the revisions “an abomination that is transparently designed to cater to the wishes of the current occupant of the mayor’s office.”
At the public hearing, Laubin was joined by fellow speakers Matt McGee and Wayne Bragg in saying the changes would eliminate the checks and balances required for government to function well and in the interests of the people being served.
"This charter revision as currently written weakens minority representation and community oversight against those in power across the board,” stated McGee at the public hearing.
Debicella disagreed, saying that claims Mayor Mark Lauretti orchestrated the revisions to further consolidate his power were wrong.
“These changes do not increase the power of the mayor, they actually decrease it,” said Debicella, adding that if any legislative body had its power increased, it was the Board of Aldermen. “We tried to create a strong set of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches - and I think we have done that.”
The current mayor is a Republican. The entire Board of Aldermen are Republicans. The political makeup of the charter change commission was four Republicans, two unaffiliateds and one Democrat.
The Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing on the revisions in two weeks. The aldermen will then either vote to approve as presented or offer their own revisions, which would then be sent to the commission for review and approval. Once complete, the revisions would be on the November ballot.
"The theory here is to take power away from the Republican and Democratic town committees and give it to voters,” said Debicella. “For too many offices, the voters are ... offered little or no choice — for example, everyone nominated for the Board of A&T wins and in most years 9 of 10 Board of Education candidates win.
“We have changed structures to give the voters more choices and limit the powers of parties to appoint elected officials,” added Debicella.
For most appointed boards, Debicella said, the mayor would nominate appointments for such positions as P&Z and Inland Wetlands administrators and Parks and Recreation director, and the Board of Aldermen would need to approve — creating a new “check and balance” on the mayor’s office, he said.
Debicella said the commission’s focus was aligning majority party maximums with state statutes and what many other towns do and allow political parties to nominate up to the number of seats they can win.
“This has the impact of increasing voter choice,” said Debicella, adding that now voters can choose from 12 candidates for the Board of Education rather than 10.
Commissioners also focused on creating a standardized process for city operations into a single process based on best practices.
Debicella said that the commission also standardized the term length of most appointed boards and commissions — and the elected Library Board — to four years. The Board of Education members will continue to have two-year terms.