March 29, 2007
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer
Former city Councilman John B. Kennelly thinks Hartford's new strong-mayor charter "needs some fixing."
That's why Kennelly has formed Hartford Charter Reform 2007, a political action committee with one goal - to get a public commitment from every candidate in the upcoming mayoral and city council elections to create a new charter revision commission. Kennelly said he hopes to establish a lobby powerful enough to convince candidates that it is in their interest politically to make that pledge.
"We'll be looking for a commitment from all of the candidates," he said Wednesday. "We are not fighting for anything that the people of the city haven't already said they want."
Two mayoral candidates have made charter revision part of their core rhetoric - former Deputy Mayor I. Charles Mathews and Mayor Eddie A. Perez.
The current charter, approved by voters in 2003 after a previous commission rewrote the document, switched the city from a council-manager government that many said had paralyzed city government to a strong-mayor system designed to be more agile and to make the mayor more accountable.
But political insiders say that after nearly four years of Perez exercising the powers given to his office, and with the city council having become voiceless and impotent, there is a push to "tweak" the document and establish sturdier checks against the mayor's office.
One idea floated by Kennelly is not new - to strengthen the city council's voice by increasing its size and creating seats that represent neighborhood districts. All nine members now are elected at-large.
In 2002, before the charter went to a referendum vote, a coalition on the city council led by Perez voted down a similar proposal that would have placed before voters the option of creating an 11-member council with five at-large members and six elected from districts. Kennelly, on the council at the time, voted to include the option.
"Those of us who spent years advocating for change did not envision five-minute council meetings with no debate on the merits of resolutions or proposed ordinances," Kennelly said. "There needs to be changes to the charter which require additional transparency of city hall decision making, which would allow for an informed debate by the council."
Kennelly also suggests increasing the power and independence of the city's internal audit commission and possibly implementing term limits for elected officials.
Charter revision promises to be an issue in the election.
Mathews committed to creating a new commission when he announced his candidacy in January, making it one of his core platforms.
Perez, during his state-of-the-city address two weeks ago, called for creation of a citizens' task force to review the new strong-mayor charter.
The task force, to be established this year, would review the charter change and its impacts on the functioning of city government, he said. After the election, the task force would make a recommendation to the mayor and city council about whether a new charter revision commission should be created.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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