Monday, November 27, 2006

Charter Revision for New London?

The Day is reporting that the Charter Revision Commission in New London is recommending a total overhaul, including a shift to a strong mayor form of government instead of their current council-manager format:
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.


Anonymous said...

Mayor/Town Council is the most interesting and exciting form of local government. Is it the best? Well that
really depends on the community.

The theory goes that a Mayor can go to
bat for his community and be a vocal
cheerleader and advocate. The theory
applies to a strong or weak Mayor.

Theory is mostly incorrect but I am still for a Mayoral form of government in all localities.

Life is too short not to have some political drama. No real drama with renewing Town Managers' Contracts. Yawn, how boring. Now a rough and tumble hard cider, log cabin, smoke filled room Mayoral election is how I like my politics.

The Phantom Returns....

BluesAndTwos said...

I wish we could get rid of our Mayor of London.

He's just come back from a 'jolly' in Cuba, supposedly on a fact finding trip for the 2012 Olympics. Yeah right, it had nothing to do with Castro being his hero...!

Was searching on London related blog posts and found yours... Wrong side of the pond I'm afraid, but nice to visit you all the same.

Blues And Twos

wtfdnucsubsailor said...

Strong Mayor, City Manager, Weak Mayor, City Council, Board of Finance, Board of Selectmen?? I have been told that town and city government east of the Hudsen River is not like town and city government in the rest of the USA. I know that when I first got involved in local government, I was amazed at the number of volunteers it took to run a town government. I grew up in an area that had a Mayor, City Council, and Board of Education. All other services reported to the Mayor, who answered to the voters and, sometimes, the City Council. The various "independent" boards and commissions that run New England towns were non existent. Each town has to decide for itself how to govern. Since New London is frustrated by lack of progress, they are hoping that a "strong mayor" answerable to the voters, will provide a vision and discipline that a city council with a weak mayor is not able to provide. I hope the voters will chose wisely.

Anonymous said...

New London needs all the help it can get- I moved away (born native) and purchased a house elseware since it was clear the locals were only good for running the place into the ground.

Anonymous said...

I'm a local official in a town with a Council/Manager form of government, and I am now convinced that this form of government is wholly unworkable. The legislative format of the Council is not at all effective for managing the day-to-day operations of a modern government--so we rely on a town manager who has far more information and command of most critical issues than the council members (unpaid volunteers) can hope to acquire. As a result, she mostly tells us what to approve, and because of time constraints we often cannot (for the good of the town) delay making decisions solely to acquire more information.

Worse still, the town manager is a political appointee of the majority party on the council--so it creates a major incentive to backroom dealing. As a non-elected official, the town manager isn't accountable to the voters. So, she can be the lead face/voice on controversial or nepotistic issues that the majority raises without any real consequence to them. Its issue-laundering of the worst sort and almost impossible to combat.

A really strong town manager--one who operated independently of the political authority--would likely not survive long as town manager. So we get a de facto mayor without any political check on the political authority. It is the worst of all possible worlds.