Charter Revision OP ED by Vinny Scicchitano
Charter Revision in Norwalk, your neighborhoods future in the fate of the unelected and appointed friends of the Mayor
Definition: Democracy; a way of governing which depends on the will of the people.
On November 7, 2023 Norwalk residents will have the opportunity to vote in favor or against the adoption of the proposed new city charter should the council move it forward. Public input has begun but this task should not simply be in the hands of review by seven citizens appointed by the current mayor. Along with a Common Council make up that severely lacks balance of power and representation. The city charter acts as our local constitution. It makes up the structure of our city’s government and addresses elected positions held such as Mayor, Common Council, Board of Education and appointed officials to boards and commissions. One public hearing is slated to take place before the new revisions are sent for approval with the council in August. If the council approves, the referendum makes the ballot on November 7, 2023 and a new city charter is adopted if the people so choose. Elected officials need to be held accountable in an effort to ensure that our budget process, land use, public safety and overall impacts to our communities decision making is properly and fairly addressed. The Norwalk city charter was developed in 1913 and there is no doubt that we need to modernize the charter to meet the needs of residents today. With that we can not further give up the power that lies with residents and succumb to the bureaucracy that exists in our city today. The current city charter along with the discussions of those proposed allows for continued power struggles between the Mayor and the Council. We saw this power struggle with the BOE budget in February. The mayor voted for a 4% increase and the council voted for an additional 1 Million to be added to the BOE budget. However, when the recommended budget came to the table with the Board of Estimate and Taxation, those appointed individuals by the current mayor rejected the vote of the common council for the additional 1 Million to the Norwalk BOE.
It is imperative that this opportunity for revision of the City Charter focuses on the improvements of checks and balances by addressing the issues and concerns that our local government faces. If more power and an extension of the mayoral term is given to the Mayor the voting public is then further distanced from decision making. The proposed new city charter has brought forth discussions of a four term mayor, significant zoning changes to Norwalk’s neighborhoods, continued appointed boards and commissions as well as no mention of minority party representation on the council.
Did you know? Norwalk is only one of three municipalities in our state of 169 total municipalities that does not have the minority provision. (CGS § 9-167a used by 166 municipalities limits the maximum number of members who may belong to the same political party on boards, commissions, legislative bodies, committees, or similar bodies, whether elected or appointed. The requirement applies to most governmental bodies of the state, its municipalities, and other political subdivisions. But it exempts a governmental body whose members are elected on the basis of geographical division (e.g., regional boards of education), certain other legislative bodies, and the board of directors of small taxing districts)
So with this opportunity I urge Norwalk residents to be involved in the process. Know your seven representatives on the charter revision commission and demand excessive input from residents and multiple opportunities for public input. Write your Common Council Members and ensure transparency and balance of power for the City of Norwalk. Everyone deserves to have a voice and have representation. Elected representatives are accountable to the people. Appointed representatives are accountable to the Mayor.
We must utilize this opportunity to combat one party rule. Everyone deserves a voice. You simply can not have that when the Common Council is dominated by one party and the Mayor appoints the people in place to ensure checks and balances and sets the makeup of the local constitution for 91,000+ residents.
Vote NO, until we have real discussions about the impact these proposed zoning regulations could have on our neighborhood. Vote NO, until we have representation that favors the people and not the politicians and those appointed by them. Accountability should be in the hands of the voters. Positions such as BET and other commissions should be moved to the people. Make them electable and therefore accountable.