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.”