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Disenfranchising New London voters

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published June 20. 2014 4:00AM

It's been a while since New London Mayor Daryl Finizio appeared in public wearing his knitted Everlast hat, to hide what he said then was a boxing bruise. But, based on some things he's been saying lately, I wonder if there could have been a new head injury.

The mayor, for instance, suggested he might recommend accepting the $100,000 bid for the Lighthouse Inn during an auction last month in which the minimum bid was set at $500,000.

How strange is that?

Think of all the people who might have bid less than $500,000 and a lot more than $100,000 had they known enforcement of the bidding rules might be at the mayor's whim.

Earlier this week the mayor appeared at a press conference with the governor and said New London is one of the only deep water ports in the world that is economically disadvantaged.

Most New London schoolchildren could tell the mayor that the world is full of much, much poorer places than New London, many with deep water ports.

Someone needs to remind the mayor it is his job to promote the city, not disparage it.

Then the mayor decided, as the week wore on, to challenge a ruling by the legal staff of the secretary of the state, which said the city could not have more than one polling place in a voting district, as the City Council proposed in a resolution.

He dropped the challenge when the secretary's staff would not back down but didn't concede he was wrong.

The attempt by the mayor and his allies on the City Council to quickly and clumsily ram through changes to the way city residents vote is indeed troubling.

The stated intent, to make it easier and more convenient for residents to vote, is certainly a good one.

Unfortunately, the mayor and his council allies behind the plan were actually engaged in an attempt to undermine voter participation in their government.

The city charter is crystal clear about how the city could increase the number of polling places: Increase the number of voting districts by ordinance, or, more simply, make it the law.

And of course, as with any ordinance, the action by the City Council itself could bring more participation by voters, requiring three separate readings of the proposed law and submitting it to mayoral veto and voter petition for a referendum.

But instead of changing the law to increase the number of districts, a change that would be allowed under state law and would not lead to Election Day confusion over voter lists, for instance, a Finizio-loyal majority on the City Council chose to pass a more informal resolution instead.

This may have seemed like a cute trick to expedite the issue and foil voters in opposition, if there even are any, but it backfired when the secretary of state's office took a look at the legal pretzel the city was crafting.

A bigger disenfranchisement for voters, though, was a part of the same measure passed by the majority of the council.

The resolution increasing the number of polling places also set the November election, now some five months away, as the day when voter-initiated referendums would be voted on.

This includes referendums on the lastest budget ordinance and a bonding ordinance, which the required number of voters have already requested by petition.

The city charter also limits spending in the current year to 25 percent of what was spent in each budget category last year, until a new budget ordinance is authorized.

It is hard to understand how pushing a referendum on the new budget ordinance until November will square with the charter.

If Mayor Finizio and the councilors who approved this measure really welcome more voter involvement and participation, they should respect the city charter and schedule an election forthwith on these pressing issues, which voters have legally asked to be heard on.

It seems those are voters some councilors don't want to listen to.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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