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New London — An effort to appoint a Charter Revision Commission failed Monday night by a 3-3 vote as city councilors disagreed on the purpose and potential ramifications of reopening the charter less than one year after making major changes.
Also Monday, the six councilors who attended the meeting voted unanimously to transfer about $15,000 to the mayor's office from the finance department to pay dues to the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments.
The motion to establish a Charter Revision Commission, consisting of seven members, would have required each councilor to recommend one commission member, to identify areas of potential charter changes and dates by which the commission would submit a final report.
To reopen the charter, state law requires that the proposal be supported by five of the seven councilors. Councilors Adam Sprecace, John Maynard and Marie Friess-McSparran voted Monday in favor of appointing the commission while Donaldo Macrino, Wade Hyslop and Council President Michael Passero voted against. Councilor Anthony Nolan was absent.
A previous effort in June to appoint a charter revision commission also failed. At that time, Passero voted in favor of the revision commission. On Monday, he said he has "serious concerns about doing it at this time." Passero said recommended changes are achievable by ordinance rather than reopening the charter for revision.
"We just got through a major change in how we govern ourselves in this city and we haven't given it a chance and I think we need to give it a chance," Passero said. "I will not support this motion tonight."
During the public comment section of the meeting, three community members spoke against the charter revision, including Maria Bareiss, who compared the recent charter change to her 20-year marriage.
"When you make a commitment, it's not always easy or comfortable in the first few years," she said. "I feel we've not given this new form of government a fair shake."
Hyslop, who spoke against the commission, said "anytime you open the charter, it's open to anything and everything, not just what you feel needs to be done."
But Councilors Sprecace and Maynard spoke in favor of appointing the commission to adjust language, not the form of government, which only changed in December. Sprecace said recent issues with the negotiation of police retirement contracts and the negotiation of a contract with the firefighters' union, among other things, have led him to support revision, and that "there are significant checks in place to prevent us from spiraling out of control."
"We are somewhat new, but revision would only help clarify what the roles of the mayor and the roles of the city council are as individuals and in respect to each other," Sprecace said. "We need changes to the language to make it more clear."
All councilors agreed on the transfer vote, which will allow the city to remain a member of the Council of Governments, which provides "a basis for intergovernmental cooperation in dealing with a wide range of issues," according to its website.
The vote came exactly three weeks after Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio wrote to James Butler, COG's executive director, to say that the city could not pay its $15,191 in dues to the 20-member agency. The letter set off a debate between the council and administration about where the fiduciary responsibility lies for such a payment, which Passero said in a letter to Butler are "relatively modest dues" in relation to the approximately $9 million in transportation projects over the last five years the city has received through its membership to COG.
The dues money came from the finance department, which had cash remaining from the unused salary of Risk Manager Lauren Cragg, who no longer works for the city.
In an emailed statement after the meeting, Finizio said "the Administration has maintained throughout that SCCOG is a valuable organization for the City of New London to be a part of. I'm grateful that the City Council voted to continue our membership."