This comment in the News-Times article regarding the passage of the charter revision best sums up my greatest concern with the changes to the city’s version of the U.S. constitution.
Lorinda Arconti, meanwhile, said she voted against the proposed changes.
“Mainly because of the bonding issue,” she said, referring to the increase to $3 million that city officials could bond without going to the voters. “I didn’t agree with it.”
Contrary to what you’ve heard from elected officials (many of whom rarely attended the charter revision meetings), as one of the few members of the public who either attended and viewed EVERY SINGLE charter revision meeting, without question, the issue of MOST concern was NOT the change in terms of elected service from 2 or 4 years, but rather an issue that was debated in great length during the numerous charter revision meetings, as well as the top issue in this past election.
BONDING (or specifically, the amount of bonding one administration can do without the approval of the residents).
When the topic of the charter revision changes was brought before the Common Council, it was suggested by the mayor and members of the council that the topics of most concern (i.e., terms of elected service, bonding) should be placed on the ballot as separate questions. That way, a majority of the other changes, which are mostly cosmetic, would not risk being struck down by the voters who voted against the changes because of a controversial item(s).
Ultimately (and thankfully), the topic of terms of service never made it’s way to the voters. As for separating the other contentious issue (bonding), that never happened…and thus my problem with the way the charter revision process was handled by the Common Council and mayor’s office.
Those on the Common Council who had a chance to speak out against the way the question was handled on the ballot dropped the ball. My concern with bonding had nothing to do with the limit the mayor could spend without the approval of the people. My issue stems from the way this mayor ignored the spirit of the charter (you could only bond up to 500,000 per year) and issuing five 500,000 bonds (or 2.5 MILLION dollars) without giving a chance for the voters to have their say back in 2008.
Here’s former Mayor Gene Eriquez commenting on what Boughton did back in 2008 (NOTE: Eriquez misspoke when he stated the section of the charter, he meant to say 7-10 and not 17-10):
The level of bonding should had stayed at 500,000 simply because WE THE PEOPLE should have more of the say in terms of how the city spends OUR money. By increasing the level of bonding without voter’s approval, you give ANY mayor more power without you having a say so.
When it comes to the issue of bonding, the charter revision commission should had been placed very definite wording that would prevent the situation we had back in 2008 when Boughton bonded over 2 million dollars without the resident’s blessing…that’s it.
Instead, the commission increased the level of bonding without voter’s approval to a whopping 5 million dollars. Add that with their suggestion to change the terms of elected service be changed to 4 years, then you have a scenario where a mayor can spend up to 20 million dollars without your approval.
That’s not the type of change I believe in.
Fortunately, the Common Council thought better and brought the level of bonding down to 3 million (per year cap). I say fortunately because the issue of bonding was not placed, as a separate question on the ballot and not for the council, the level of spending would be set at 5 million dollars per year.
Screwing around with the charter (which is the constitution of the city) should not be taken lightly…in fact, it should rarely happen at all. While most of the changes are cosmetic in nature, some are very serious which will have a lasting impact in terms of how things are handled in the city. That being said, whether it’s by holding town hall meetings in their respected wards or by mailing and calling their constituents, the members of the common council had an obligation to do everything in its power to properly inform the public about the changes made to the charter.
That didn’t happen.
The mayor and members of the council hardly lifted a finger in terms of informing the public about the charter revision process, which is evident when you see the number of people who attended the meetings on a regular basis. Again, I attended a majority of the meetings and I can name every person who was there with me (and they know who they are and are probably shaking their heads in agreement right now). Placing the changes to the charter on a website is hardly any way to inform the public about the what’s happening. As someone in the middle of politics in the city, I know about the changes because I deal with City Hall all the time BUT that’s not the case with most people in this commuter city.
Case in point, look at this quote…
Regina Ofiera, a moderator at Danbury High School during Tuesday’s election, said there were voters who didn’t answer the charter question.
“I think there were a lot of voters who didn’t know what it meant, so they just didn’t answer the question rather than making an uneducated vote,” she said.
While many didn’t vote for the changes due to a lack of knowledge, many DID vote for the changes having no knowledge of the changes and just trusting their elected representatives who vetted and approved the changes to the charter…and this is one of the most dangerous things we face in terms of dealing with a public that has no knowledge of how politics works in this city.
If given the chance, I strongly believe that the issue of increased bonding would had failed if the voters had a chance to deal with that charter revision change separate from the other changes. I say this because, in this day where people are facing economic hardships, the LAST thing you would want to do is to give government MORE money to spend without their blessing.
Instead what we had here was a case where all the changes to the charter were lumped together and THE PEOPLE were not given a choice on what changes they liked versus the ones they didn’t like.
Who gets blamed for this you ask?
Should we blame Mayor Boughton or the Republicans on the Council for not separating the question of bonding on the ballot?
Should we blame the minority party on the council for not taking action in making sure that the issue of bonding be listed on the ballot as a separate question?
Should we blame the candidates running for Common Council for not making the topic of the charter changes a part of their campaign platform?
Should we blame the Democratic Town Committee for not holding the mayor and council to their word when they said they would separate the question of bonding from the other charter changes on the ballot?
Should we blame the mayor’s office broadcasting more meetings on local access television.
Should we blame the media for not doing a better job in reporting on the charter revision meetings that took place over a 17 month period?
BLAME YOURSELVES for allowing the mayor and Common Council to go back on their word in terms of having separating the controversial charter revision questions on the ballot.
BLAME YOURSELVES for not telling the candidates running for Common Council about your concerns regarding some of the changes to the charter when they came by and knocked on your door.
BLAME YOURSELVES for not placing MORE pressure on City Hall to broadcast more meeting on the government access channel.
BLAME YOURSELVES for not speaking out when there is a chance to make a difference (as opposed to after the fact).
In short, when it comes to casting blame, take a look in the mirror.