Arguing that the city suffers from long-term economic stagnation and lacks an articulated vision for the future, the commission has called for an overhaul of the city charter that would scrap the city manager-city council form of government. Under that system, in place for the last 85 years, the council determines policies, and a city manager appointed by the council carries them out.
The Charter Revision Commission is instead advocating a strong mayor-city council system. A full-time mayor directly elected to a four-year term without a term limit would be empowered to lead the city, with the ability to hire a chief of staff, appoint and dismiss the heads of city departments, sign contracts on behalf of the city, propose annual budgets and veto votes of the council. The council would act primarily as a check on the powers of the mayor, with the ability to approve some appointments, override mayoral vetoes by a two-thirds vote and work with the mayor and finance board to come up with an annual budget. (Stoll)
This is a pretty interesting argument. The conventional wisdom seems to be that the selectmen/town meeting form of government works best for small communities, the council/manager form works best for medium-sized towns and urban areas are best served by the strong mayor/council form of government.
But how true is that? Hartford changed its charter a few years ago in just such a manner. Some argue that the city was helped by the change, while others seem to think it allowed Eddie Perez to become some sort of tin-pot dictator.
I wrote extensively about the different forms of government in Connecticut in this piece last year. The vast majority of towns in Connecticut have some sort of selectmen/board of finance/town meeting form of government, but most of those towns are smaller. A statistic:
The average population of towns with selectmen/town meeting forms of government is 9,660, for council/manager towns it is 27,169 and for mayor/council towns the average is 52,973.
Larger towns seem to gravitate towards having a strong mayor, while small towns like to keep the selectman/council form of government. A council/manager form of government is sort of a compromise between the two. Sort of. The form of government seems to depend on how active the government needs to be.
So what's right for New London? Should they retain their current form of government, which seems to be broken, or take a gamble that a new form of government will work better? In the end, only New London's people can make that decision.
Stoll, Elaine. "Complete Overhaul Best Way To Fix NL Government, Says Charter Commission." New London Day 27 November, 2006.