By John McNamara
The Common Council is set to create a Charter Commission at its February 10th meeting to consider sweeping changes in municipal government at the behest of Republican Mayor Erin Stewart.
The Stewart administration, taking advantage of a Republican Council majority, seeks to eliminate neighborhood representation on the city council in favor of an all at large system that would replace the current 15-member council composed of two members from five council districts (wards) and five at large members.
Proponents of the ward system, who fought a long battle to gain neighborhood representation on the Council, maintain that the current make up of the Council provides geographic and racial diversity in the legislative body in a city that is increasingly diverse.
Council districts give residents accessible voices on the Council for every area of the city, not just the west side whose upper income residents dominated city councils under the at large system to the exclusion of other parts of the city and the city’s growing Latino and African-American citizenry. Republicans, led by Registrar of Voters Peter Gostin, have sought a return to the at large system in which five members of the minority party are guaranteed seats whether or not they receive a majority or plurality of votes.
State Rep. Bobby Sanchez (D-25) is taking strong exception to Mayor Stewart’s move to end ward councillors and opposes the call for charter change to eliminate neighborhood representation on the Council. At the same time Sanchez linked the charter proposal to a plan drafted by Republican Registrar Gostin to eliminate polling places in his district.
“I’m very disturbed but not surprised that Republicans would try to suppress the vote by their attempts to close polling places and now, in particular, by opening the charter to eliminate the ward system. In the past, the at large system did not reflect the diversity of our city. With the ward system not only do we have a more diverse council, we also have city wide representation. It is my hope that the people of New Britain will see the injustice and make their voices heard in the coming days and months.”
The Republican Stewart’s agenda for the Charter Commission, in addition to re-establishing an all at large council system, includes other recommendations:
- eliminating the election of the Tax Collector and Town and City Clerk by popular vote in favor of appointment by political patronage.
- Increasing the mayoral term from two to four years [ironically the 2015 Democratic Mayoral Candidate John McNamara was the only candidate to support this idea last year]
- A compensation plan for “non-union” appointed and elected officials including the Mayor and the aforementioned patronage jobs of tax collector and town and city clerk as well as the Registrars of Voters. The provision for raising the salary of Registrars of Voters raises a potential and immediate conflict of interest since one of Stewart’s Republican picks for the commission is none other than Peter Gostin.
- the creation of a quasi governmental “Golf Authority” to run Stanley Golf Course removing direct control by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
In addition to Republican Registrar of Voters Gostin, a leading advocate for restricting voter access and closing polling places since his election as the GOP’s chief election official, Republican picks for the Charter panel include Catherine Cheney and Efrain Rosado. Democrats proposed for the charter commission include Attorneys Adrian Baron, Michael Carrier and Mary Pokorski ( a municipal employee whose job security undoubtedly depends on agreeing with Team Stewart).
The resolution to create a charter commission is sponsored by Republican caucus leaders Danny Salerno and Jaime Giantonio. It stipulates that the Commission will issue a report by June 3rd to put a charter change referendum on the November ballot.
The Common Council meeting on February 10th begins with public participation in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 27 West Main Street.