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New London GOP Requests Charter Commission

Republicans ask City Council to form group to address concerns on petitions, law director

New London’s Republicans made a formal request for a charter revision commission on Tuesday, asking that the City Charter’s process on referendum petitions be amended.

The Republican Town Committee unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the City Council to convene a commission to address the issue. The resolution also asks the commission to look into how the relationship between the law director, mayor, and City Council is defined in the City Charter.

Chairman Bill Vogel said the goal of the proposal would be to have the commission propose changes in time for them to appear on the November ballot. If this were to occur, the revisions would appear alongside a referendum vote on whether to accept the 2013 fiscal year municipal budget—about four months after the expiration of that fiscal year.

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In November, the council accepted a petition challenging a revised city budget and 5.1 percent tax increase adopted on Oct. 9 but could not muster the majorities necessary to reduce the budget, approve it as an emergency measure, or set a special election in December. The result, as directed by the charter, was that the vote on the budget was scheduled for the next available regular election in November.

Law Director Jeffrey Londregan, who previously said further referendums would not be possible under a legal precedent since 25 percent of the 2013 budget had been spent, advised the council that city departments should continue to operate on the October budget. Revised tax bills reflecting the new budget were mailed out last month.

“Right now we’re in a position where we don’t have the authority to spend the city’s money, but we’re spending it anyway,” said Vogel.

Vogel said Councilor Adam Sprecace, the only Republican on the City Council, also requested that any charter revision commission look into the role of the law director. Vogel said there is some question of who the law director reports to and that under the charter the mayor has more authority over the position. The council must approve the mayor’s appointment of a law director, but does not have the power to contest the mayor’s decision if he or she decides to dismiss the law director.

A charter revision was twice proposed in the City Council last year but could not muster the two-thirds majority necessary to approve it. Supporters said changes to the charter are needed to clarify certain areas following a 2010 charter revision approved at referendum that changed New London from a city manager to a strong mayor form of government.

Opponents on the proposal said another charter revision would be premature and that the concerns about the charter could be addressed by ordinance. The proposals also raised concerns that recommendations by the commission could be politically motivated, including the possibility that opponents to Mayor Daryl Finizio could advocate major changes to the form of government such as shortening the mayor's term or returning to a city manager.

Vogel said the commission could recommend any changes they see fit once the charter is under revision. However, he said the revisions would have to be approved by the council before they could be sent to referendum.  

Finizio said he did not support the idea of renewing a charter revision commission.

"I feel it is unnecessary to revise the charter at this time,” he said. “The public overwhelmingly voted for this charter and I believe that any conflicts can be resolved through the normal political and legal processes.”

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John Russell January 09, 2013 at 01:01 PM
Far as I know the council even if a commission was empaneled could not direct them as to what specifically to look at or as to a time frame to do it in. The entire charter would be open for further review and revision. As to my own thoughts. I would have liked to have had a class call it Charter 101 whereas during the period of time between the previous municipal election and the council and mayor taking office all pertinent parties would have been asked to attend this class. Because it seems to me a lot of the initial problems came from a clash over who was in charge of what. This class may have alleviated that problem and made for a smoother transition.
Clark van der Lyke January 09, 2013 at 01:41 PM
Some communities create a standing "Charter Revision Committee" designed to bring together a group of informed citizens to study, accept public input and provide well though out suggestions for updating a charter. The results would be presented to a future charter revision commission. This effort could save the future charter commission a lot of learning time by putting together various proposals already well researched and discussed without the pressure of meeting a completion date that always comes too soon. Just sayin'...
Bud Wizer January 09, 2013 at 02:07 PM
No offense, Mr. Vogel, but this DTC member had not known you were an attorney. I can appreciate that you might have a lay opinion regarding the city's fiduciary empowerments and fiscal authority, but your going on the public record with a claim that the city is spending money it has not the authority to spend seems that of a person who would prefer to pose as an attorney rather than pass a bar exam. Any examination of New London's history since the 1960s clearly reveals that the name Londgregan has not easily passed the lips of members of the city's Republican town committee. The problem for the Republicans is neither the charter nor the relationship among the mayor, councilors and city attorney. The problem for the Republican town committee is that its chance of bringing forth a slate of candidates that can win majorities on council and school board is a long shot, at best. Considering that the former Republican town chairman, Robert Grilles, led the charter-revision commission that wrought the "strong-mayor" reform to city government and his commission failed to foresee that the mayor would need a staff and office, that the council would need administrative support staff as well, that powers were ill-defined, some of us would suggest, Mr. Vogel, that Republicans own up to their leadership for the charter revision it now condemns. I know it hurts to face facts, Mr. Vogel. But the 2010 Census does not paint a picture of New London as a likely GOP stronghold. Sorry.
Aundré Bumgardner January 09, 2013 at 10:09 PM
You're making moot points that have nothing to deal with the problem at hand, Bud. The Charter needs to be revised that to address this loophole regarding referendums which has a direct effect on New London Citizens. By changing this, we will provide greater fiscal certainty for the taxpayers all across the city. Also since when does the Democratic Party have a mandate to push through anything of their choosing,l as you suggest? Last time I checked the GOP backed no-vote on the budget prevailed over what many democrats including the Mayor had hoped for, which was to rubber stamp a budget that included ludicrous tax increases.
Zak Leavy January 09, 2013 at 10:49 PM
Aundre, The Charter does not need to be revised to fix a "loophole." We can address issues in the Charter through normal processes of ordinance or legal ruling. As for the referendum part, the law department ruled on it. There is precedent that the government cannot shut down and when 25% of last year's budget is spent, the referendum process is halted. This prevents a minority of people, this year roughly 485 signatures, from holding the budget process hostage.
Bill Vogel January 10, 2013 at 12:17 AM
The City Council accepted the second petition challenging the current city budget ordnance. According to the City Charter Section 30 the ordnance is not operative until (in this case) it is approved at a referendum. Therefore, the city has no authority to spend money. The argument presented by the Law Director that the petition was invalid was not accepted by the City Council. In fact the City Council accepted the petition and sent it to referendum. Again, this means that the applicable ordnance is not operative and the Mayor is spending money without authority. The New London RTC believes this is a serious financial violation that should not be ignored. The City Charter should be modified to require a prompt referendum. Below is a copy of Section 30 of the City Charter: "Sec. 30. - Filing of petition permitted. If, within fifteen days after the final passage of a measure by the council or the city clerk's certification of a new ordinance per Sec. 27, a petition signed by electors of the city equal in number to at least ten per centum of those who voted at the last preceding regular city election be filed with the city clerk requesting that such measure, or any part thereof, be either repealed or submitted to a vote of the electors, it shall not, unless it be an emergency measure, become operative until the steps indicated herein have been taken. Such petition shall be known as a referendum petition."
Bud Wizer January 10, 2013 at 01:11 AM
In a nutshell, the RTC's beef is that homeowners, who are by Census only one-third of city residents, aren't empowered as a majority. You can hem and haw all you want, Mr. Vogel, and you can misspell ordinance until the cows come home; but you cannot change the fact that this city's Democratic party understands what a majority is and will continue to resist the RTC dreamscape, frequently voiced by former Councilor Pero and still voiced by Councilor Sprecace, that even though homeowners are in the minority, they ought to be deferred to as though they were the majority. Split hairs all you want, the fundamental problem for your party is that it is not represenative of the majority of this city's residents and even when it stoops so low as to exploit a recession for taxpayer angst that is consequently generalized and broadened by that recession, the best it can do is to audaciously express a proposal to change the governmental framework to favor its subterfuge. En garde, sir; We Democrats are up to whatever challenge you might offer and have sufficient integrity to admit that we lost the most recent referendum on the budget not because your party's position deserved the victory, but because we did not hit the streets and bang the doors with the fervor and conviction we ought to have demonstrated. Your including, verbatim, Sec 30 of the charter is ridiculous. It was made moot by the city attorney's ruling. To court, to court, sir, is your only option. Ante up.
Smell the desperation January 16, 2013 at 10:53 AM
Is zak capable of independent thought or does he just parrot silly sound bites from the mayor? Why do we pay him? It is clear the mayor does not make decisions as he consistently blames every decision on others when he is forced to realize how dumb the decision was. So if the mayor isn't making the decisions, or even if he is, why can't can't he make comments to the press rather the send his comment regurgitating ken doll to the press. Can we really afford extra layers of nonsensical self important unqualified employees paid to respond to online comments and sit in the hall in Hartford because no one will talk to him. It is all so painfully to watch, but since they lack the experience to know what they should be doing, they believe their highly publicized hamster wheel antics disguised as activity can be considered productivity. What we have is a bunch of people who don't know better being led by a person who was willing to do a say anything to win. He won and now, despite knowing the charter needs to be revised, refuses to do so to protect the insulation it provides because of its obvious shortcomings. It's not leadership. It's selfish protectionism and should not be ok with taxpayers.

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