Mayor Bill Finch has appointed seven Bridgeport residents to serve on a new Charter Revision Commission designed to modernize an antiquated City Charter and examine education reform. The members include a former Republican town chairman, an executive at the University of Bridgeport, a city pastor and the mayor’s deputy chief of staff.
Voters must ultimately approve the recommendations made by the commission that was created by a vote of the City Council. The council is expected to approve Finch’s appointments at its next meeting Jan. 17.
One area the charter panel could examine is an appointed Bridgeport Board of Education instead of an elected body. The State Supreme Court will decide a legal challenge of the state takeover of city schools. The mayor wants the commission to conduct its work in time for the November election in a presidential cycle when the turnout should eclipse 50 percent based on past voter performance. The mayor’s office is expected to be actively involved in selling charter changes to voters.
Harry Weischel, Democrat, vice president with Arnold Peck’s Commercial World, has been a long-time city resident active in a number of social service and city athletic programs. He founded the city’s Grassroots Tennis Program. He has served on the city’s Ethics Commission.
Charlie Valentino, Republican, served years ago as the chairman of the Bridgeport Republican Town Committee. He has been a long-time state marshal involved in serving summons and complaints in state and federal civil matters.
George Estrada, Republican, vice president for Facilities at the University of Bridgeport, served under mayors Mary Moran and John Fabrizi as chief of Public Works and Public Facilities. An intriguing selection by the mayor considering his past issues with the University of Bridgeport where his primary opponent Mary-Jane Foster works as an executive vice president.
William Marshall, Democrat, pastor of Bridgeport Christian Life Center on Connecticut Avenue.
Cathleen Simpson, Democrat, labor relations attorney for the state Office of Policy and Management. She graduated from the University of Bridgeport School of Law.
Florisca Carter, unaffiliated, director of operations for Achievement First Bridgeport Academy. She is a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Ruben Felipe, Democrat, deputy chief of staff for Mayor Finch. Felipe has taken on an expanded role serving as the city’s point person for redevelopment projects on the city’s East Side.
During the past 25 years voter-approved charter changes include budget authority for the City Council (eliminating the Board of Apportionment and Taxation); mayoral appointment of the police and fire chiefs to five-year terms, with an option to appoint them to one final five-year term; creating an Office of Policy and Management with a director who builds the budget presented to the mayor and City Council and an Office of Finance with a director who oversees the city treasurer, tax assessor and tax collector.
In 1998, voters also approved a four-year term for mayor. Finch is the first mayor to win two four-year terms as a result of that charter change. Attorney Steven Mednick has been retained by the city to provide advice in drafting a new City Charter. Mednick has advised charter commissions and drafted new city charters for Hartford, Waterbury, New Britain, East Windsor and Hamden. Finch issued this statement last month when he announce formation of a charter panel.
“It has become clear that we need to modernize, simplify and make our Charter more constitutional in style in order to face the challenges of a 21st century municipality. One of the primary recommendations I will forward to this commission will be creating more public accountability for education reform in order to ensure that our students receive the best education possible.”