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Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio has bestowed on New London a priceless gift. In little more than seven months since election he has aroused sufficient alarm among concerned residents and civic leaders to waken perhaps compelling doubt as to the wisdom of the much ballyhooed charter change that exhumed the council-mayor form of government.
Let us recall that 91 years ago New London voters, urged by The Day's founder Theodore Bodenwein, firmly renounced the council-mayor system, aware that the burgeoning complexity of urban administration demanded replacement of the politically nominated, popularly elected mayor by an appointed, professional manager. New London was not alone in acknowledging the new necessity. Adoption of the council-manager system was a nationwide movement among small and medium-sized cities during what historians call the Progressive Era. The political establishments of larger cities resisted the change, with too-familiar consequences.
That some of New London's louder voices clamored for the return of the outmoded mayoral system lends support to the adage that from history we learn that we learn nothing from history.
Into the slough of the charter change waded Mayor Finizio, whose unilateral plans to dismiss 25 firefighters, 10 police officers and several administrators apparently convinced numerous New Londoners that the mayor himself needed replacing, rather than the flawed structure that made possible his election.
I do not concur.
Some sixty years' observation of, and participation in, local government have persuaded me that the competence of any successor to our current mayor would almost certainly be as doubtful.
My guarded appraisal of most who seek and hold public office has recently been reaffirmed by two events: (1) the failure of our City Council, albeit by a single vote, to appoint a new charter commission; (2) so-called "negotiation," after the fact, to re-employ some or all dismissed personnel.
Having served three decades as a public-school history teacher, 15 years as department head, nine years as union president, two as city councilor and one as vice-chair of a charter commission, I believe myself an informed witness regarding the talent of too many public officials for pretentious nonsense. However, the claim by our mayor and other alleged leaders to have negotiated an action taken beforehand strains my connoisseur's capacity for cynicism.
I have sought repeatedly in these pages to share my concern for what I regard as the prevailing dysfunction of our national politico-economic structure, and the consequent imperative to strengthen and refine local systems, which warrants close attention to our mayor and the framework within which he operates. The two are harmoniously inharmonious. The council-mayor system has proven susceptible to one-man rule, which our mayor seems to welcome. New London is in double trouble.
However, not all is lost.
Connecticut General Statutes, Section 7-188 (b), (c) enables creation of a charter commission by petition. While the process is arduous, it offers a way to regain a degree of democracy - (small d) - in New London. Those still awake had better stir from weary posteriors to meet the challenge.
Charles Frink has been a resident of New London for 79 of his 84 years.