Political Reforms, Term Limits Suggested Norwalk Charter Change 2023

Residents wanted four-year mayoral terms, minority party representation, and term limits in the amended municipal charter, but administrators feared another election failure.

The Common Council can choose to include the Charter Revision Commission’s proposed changes to the 110-year-old city charter in the November ballot next month. Residents demanded substantial document modifications at their Wednesday meeting.

“We’re reforming the document, not the governance,” said Commission Chair Patsy Brescia. “We’re trying to keep major issues to a small number of items so we can get this at least over the hump and change it.”

Commission members were leery about major city government changes.

The redesign, which began in September 2022, aims to restructure, improve readability, and delete 1913-era provisions.

Many Norwalk citizens have petitioned the panel to extend the mayor’s two-year term to four. Others cited failed mayoral term changes.

Lisa Brinton, a past Norwalk mayoral candidate, said, “My feelings on the four-year term for mayor are the same as in 2016. “…I fear failure if you bind all your efforts this year to a four-year term.”

The 2016 Charter draft Commission included the term extension in their final draft, however, the ballot vote failed with 46.1 percent in favor and 53.6 percent against.

Brinton suggested increasing the mayor’s term and Common Council terms by two years to “ensure checks and balances.”

“I support it if it applies to the council because any change in the mayor’s office should encourage, preserve, and promote democracy – not consolidate it,” Brinton added.

Commissioner Tyler Fairbairn said two-year Common Council tenure will hold mayors accountable.

“If you have a four-year mayor and a four-year council and they’re all the same party… that’s four years where if you don’t like how things are going, you’re stuck,” Fairbairn said. “Whereas a two-year council, to me, is more of a check on the mayor’s power because you now have the ability to put people in there who will work against him or her.”

Fairbairn said many citizens have expressed worry over the last decade about the Democratic majority in the Mayor’s Office and Common Council.

Some Norwalk residents asked the commission to guarantee minority party representation in the Common Council, boards, and commissions.

“I think this community is unfairly represented,” Vincent Scicchitano remarked. “Many feel disenfranchised.”

Donna Smirniotopoulos, another resident, said minority party representation is not enough. She suggested electing members of the Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Estimate and Taxation.

You won’t be appointed if you’ve criticized the leadership. Smirniotopoulos stated, “That’s my bluntest statement.” “…It’s unhealthy for Norwalk’s democratic process for the mayor to keep drawing from the same well.

Diane Lauricella sought more women on boards and commissions.

“The number of women are not being achieved right now on several important boards and commissions no matter what the happy talk is telling you,” Lauricella remarked. “I would very much enjoy any enabling legislative language [about] diversity on boards and commissions to almost force it instead of just waiting for it.”

John Cardamone, a resident, questioned if the commission could impose mayoral term limits in the charter, but Steven Mednick, the city’s charter revision counsel, stated term limits are not allowed under state law.

Mednick emphasized that Connecticut’s home rule legislation allows municipalities to create and update charters. He added the state must clearly give charter provisions.

Mednick suggested residents may lobby state legislators to pass a general or specific act to limit municipal terms.

Mednick added that if they were petitioned to do this and chose to respond, they could present the legislation and get it through the state legislature.

Resident John Levin requested that commissioners share Mednick’s reasoning.

“Emphasize that, in fact, the state constraints that are imposed upon Norwalk can be modified through legislation at the state level,” Levin added. “Norwalk could have term limits and recalls of elected officials if we could get it through our state legislature.”

Commissioner Michael Witherspoon wondered if addressing major topics like mayoral terms would hinder the commission’s November work.

“Another commission may have to deal with those because we are trying to like finish up all the work that we have started so it would benefit the [city],” Witherspoon said.

Brescia said the commission wants a charter review every five years and that the charter might be renewed in two or three years.

Brescia said that could resolve previous comments. “We thought that would cover the fact that we’ve been charged with such a big amount of effort to just restructure it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *