Mayor Bill Finch on Thursday briefed several members of the executive committee of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council on his priority for the Charter Revision Commission he empaneled: an appointed Board of Education with little or no room for anything else.
It appears, from impressions of those at the meeting, the mayor doesn’t want charter issues raised that could potentially distract what he plans to lobby voters to approve in November. The mayor was joined last Thursday at the business community inner circle by Chief of Staff Adam Wood, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Nunn and Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Alanna Kabel. The business community could play an active role raising money to help the mayor win approval of his charter initiative.
Finch wants voters to approve an appointed board similar to the setup in New York City where the majority of school board members are selected by the mayor.
In response to a question, the mayor said term limits for City Council members would not be on the table (there is also some question whether state statute would even allow it). It is the council that ultimately approves the charter revision questions presented to voters. The mayor doesn’t want to present anything to the council that could alienate his BOE goal.
The mayor is concerned that the Connecticut Supreme Court could overturn the state takeover of city schools. Allowing a charter change for an appointed BOE would negate BOE elections.
There is an appetite among some council members, however, to allow compensation for serving on the legislative body. Council members are researching whether the charter already gives them authorization to approve compensation for members or if a charter change is required. The council cannot craft questions for the ballot. It can only accept or reject questions posed by the charter review panel so whether the charter panel submits a question about compensation is another matter.
In 1998, when voters approved a four-year term for mayor it was feared also including a four-year term for council members would drag down the question. Assuming the mayor can shepherd the central question about an appointed BOE he is expected to go to work lobbying voters for approval.
The campaign in 1998 to pass the four-year term for mayor was accompanied by citywide voter outreach that included radio, direct mail and phone banks financed heavily by a business community fundraising effort led by then-Mayor Joe Ganim who was popular with voters before a conviction on public corruption charges in 2003 derailed his mayoralty.
Finch is expected to put his prestige on the line with voters to win approval of an appointed BOE. With Barack Obama on the ballot in a presidential cycle the turnout should exceed 50 percent. It remains to be seen what kind of organized opposition will develop over the question.
For a refresher on the Charter Revision Commission members see here.