In a commentary also published by the CT Post, retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez urges creation of a Charter Revision Commission with specifics on government reforms that should be examined. From Lopez:
It’s that time of year again! In politics, this time is known as the ‘silly season.’
Why you might ask?
Well, it is the time of year when Bridgeport City Council members run for reelection and challengers, say ‘vote for me, because I am not one of them.’
Usually, the level of debate does not encompass issues or anything even close to a vision of prosperity for the City of Bridgeport.
I have a suggestion that can be debated by challengers and incumbents alike.
Quite simply, it is time for a serious Charter Revision Commission. By serious, I don’t mean a commission like the one appointed by former Mayor Bill Finch. The outcome was pre-determined, and the Mayor controlled every aspect of the process, including the appointment and staffing of the commission.
As usual, the City Council was a mere afterthought.
Contrary to popular myth and misconception, the formation of a Charter Revision Commission does not need the permission or endorsement of any sitting mayor, or city attorney. In fact, state law provides no official role for the Mayor whatsoever. Surprised?
Well, as the late Al Smith once said, “let’s look at the record.”
The “appointing authority” per Connecticut State Statutes, is the body “empowered to make ordinances”in our case, the Bridgeport City Council.
A Charter Revision Commission must be initiated by a two-thirds vote of the City Council, fourteen (14) votes. Within thirty (30) days, the City Council must appoint a Commission consisting of five (5) to fifteen (15) electors of the City. Only a bare majority of the Commission can be members of a single political party.
Once the Commission is formed it is literally and statutorily a creature of the City Council.
It reports to, and responds to, the members of the City Council that appointed it. The Commission must do so within time limits provided by law.
The voters must ultimately approve any changes endorsed by the City Council. This is an ‘inconvenient’ requirement, which prevented former Mayor Finch’s power grab with regard to an appointed board of education.
Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, I suggest several areas which a Charter Revision Commission should examine and make recommendations.
First of all, the City should have a municipal Board of Finance, similar to the Board of Apportionment and Taxation which was eliminated many years ago. By state law, no municipal employee may sit on a Board of Finance. This board should be empowered to set the mil rate, recommend a budget to the City Council for ultimate approval and have the authority to approve transfers within line items in a department budget. Unlike the City Council, the requirement of political minority representation would apply to this body.
The Mayor should have the right to attend City Council meetings and participate. However, all meetings should be run by the President of the City Council, not the Executive.
Furthermore, the City Council should have its own attorney, independent of the City Attorney’s office. This attorney should be selected by the City Council.
The charter must be amended to address the abuse of the provision allowing for members of boards and commissions to ‘hold over’ until their successors are appointed and qualified. In Bridgeport, many appointed board and commission members remain in office, years after their terms have expired. This practice is an open invitation to corruption.
The commission should also explore expanding democracy in Bridgeport. Perhaps we, the voters, should elect members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Police Commission. In our surrounding towns, members of land use boards are elected; why not here?
Finally, it may be time to re-examine the four-year mayoral term, now that we have had experience with it.
This Charter Revision Commission could be formed by the existing City Council before it goes out of office. Incumbents seeking to demonstrate their independence from the mayor should rush to support the establishing of a Charter Revision Commission.
Failing that, the issue can at least be debated during the upcoming primary season.
A spirited discussion might lend some life support to a city democracy in desperate need of resuscitation.