Time to move forward on New London Charter
“It was time to move forward.”
These are the words that should echo from New London’s City Council. Instead, the aforementioned words are a quote from a Groton Charter Revision commission member, a commission whose mission is exactly what we need in New London.
Groton’s Charter Review Commission recently briefed its proposed changes, and with the exception of changes relative to the Representative Town Meeting (RTM, which New London doesn’t have), you could apply nearly all the recommendations to New London’s own charter.
As a member of New London’s Charter Review Board (a board does not have the legislative jurisdiction of a commission, and can only make suggestions to the City Council), I have spent countless hours with my fellow board members scrubbing our charter. We have found numerous areas that require revision – some to merely reflect modern procedures, others to make more serious corrections, including tightening up the referendum process. Additionally, the opportunity is there to institute new procedures, such as the staggering of election terms to prevent wholesale changeovers in government.
We have also seen recently how some of our elected officials treat the current charter with blatant disdain. We have an administration that would rather govern by legal interpretation and reading between the lines than respecting the intent of the words written in our charter, a document that exists for the protection of New London’s residents.
Examples of this “governing through interpretation” include the council’s lax approach to taking action on the successful budget referendum petition recently presented to them. There is also the administration’s indifference to residency requirements for many important executive positions.
Amendments are necessary to the charter to tighten up wording and prevent such administrative abuse from continuing.
One of the more interesting changes recommended by Groton’s Charter Review Commission is restricting employees of the town and Board of Education from serving on elected bodies. This seems like a logical suggestion, as it is easy to discern where a potential conflict of interest might arise.
Additionally, many of the suggestions in Groton focus on improving the budget process. The recent debacle with New London’s Finance Board, and the subsequent disregard of their Board of Education budget recommendations by council, show that New London would benefit from a similar focus.
Yet no matter how tightly a commission rewords the charter, or what new ordnances are established, there will always be opportunists looking to circumvent safeguards put in place for the citizenry. Given that, perhaps a checks and balance process is necessary. This could include an automatic ethics review of charter interpretations made by council or the administration.
Among the top priorities for the next New London City Council should be establishment of a Charter Review Commission. New London deserves a government that will adhere to the requirements and intent of our city charter and one that respects the voice of its citizens.
Tim Ryan is the secretary for the New London Republican Town Committee and a candidate for City Council.
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