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Lopez: Time For City Council To Create A Serious Charter Revision Commission

July 12th, 2017 · 12 Comments · City Council, City Politics, News and Events

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.

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12 Comments so far ↓

  • Lisa Parziale

    Judge, if just half of your suggestions came to be, Bridgeport would become viable, and politicians would become effective!

  • Frank Gyure

    Carmen Lopez for MAYOR!!!!

    • Maria Pereira

      Carmen Lopez should absolutely be mayor. She is ethical, honest, brilliant, understands every aspect of governance and cannot be bought.

      I have pleaded with her to run and I am pleading with her right now, please run for mayor. I will do every single thing in my power to get you elected.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Judge Lopez has once again looked at the law and provided instruction to her neighbors as to what is possible that they might not have known.
    Whether enough Council members currently in office would see fit to move such a resolution, is another question, but even attempting to pass such might point out those who are happy with the status quo for their own reasons.
    Judge Lopez talks about enough items that might receive attention in a Charter review and be discussed by those who are unhappy with the “closed” process today, but were we to sit and ponder we could no doubt find an additional list of practices and processes employed in other communities of our size and diversity to improve governance for all the people. What is you Council person saying? Time will tell.

  • Ron Mackey

    Lisa, I’m in full agreement with you and Frank. Judge Lopez won’t run for mayor, I wish she would and she would great but if she supported a candidate for mayor and that person won then she would be the best person for the position of City Attorney, (but mayor first) because we have a lot of bad legal advice coming out of the City Attorney’s office.

    • Frank Gyure

      Anastasi and Liskov need to be fired from the City Attorney’s office. No matter how much it costs. Anastasi keeps on getting involved with questionable opinions. Bridgeport would be better off by getting rid of Anastasi and Liskov-no matter how much it costs. Anastasi destroys the bond of trust between the people of Bridgeport and the Government of Bridgeport.

      • Maria Pereira

        Anastasi behaves as if he is an elected member of the city council and BOE, however whenever he tries that crap at BOE meetings, Howard, Sauda, Ben and myself shut him down.

  • Jimfox

    Oust Hamilton. Burger Now!

  • Ron Mackey

    Any four year for office needs a recall provision where voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote before their term has ended if any representative is not properly discharging their responsibilities, then they can be called back with the written request of specific number of voters.

  • DC Faber

    That is brilliant! Judge Lopez needs to be Mayor or appointed City Attorney by the next mayor. Smart, ethical and understands the law – characteristics currently unavailable at city hall.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    There is not an honest politician alive in America. Each and everyone has lied or will lie to the people. We have 4of the biggest liars in Connecticut Blumenthal Murphy Malloy and Ganim.
    Some of that $200K set for the demolition of AGI rubber was divided amongst a select few. You wait until this New York Crew gets here for the Polis redevelopment the money will be flowing like wine.
    Where are the Feds, where is the US Attorney. We have got to start electing people who obey the law and who really want to help Bridgeport and the State

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