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Hartford Councilman Hopes To Shift Power In Charter

By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

March 22, 2008

Councilman Kenneth Kennedy thinks something just isn't right with the balance of power at city hall, and he's asking the city council to begin the process of reforming the city charter.

But Matt Hennessy, chief of staff to Mayor Eddie A. Perez, says Kennedy is getting ahead of himself. Instead, Hennessy said, Perez and the council's leadership are behind a competing measure to establish a charter revision task force one that will take the pulse of the public before politicians start trying to change things.

Both proposals, which will be before council members this week, are the manifestation of months of private discussions about whether the current balance of power between the mayor's office and the council is out of whack.

"We have heard from folks that the government was not working the way it should," Kennedy said. "I'm hoping my colleagues will remember that."

Specifically, Kennedy wants the council to discuss whether the legislative body has the independence it needs under the strong-mayor form of government adopted by the city in 2002.

So he's making a few suggestions for amending the charter and wants the council to vote for a new charter revision commission.

Kennedy proposes allowing the council to appoint the attorney responsible for the city, and the mayor would then be able to hire a separate attorney.

The attitude of the corporation counsel's office is often that "they work for the mayor, instead of representing the city as a whole," Kennedy said. "But the corporation counsel represents the entity, not the individual, and there seems to be a little bit of confusion on that."

Kennedy also proposes electing some council members by district, instead of at-large as is currently the case. That could make the council more beholden to the voters and less to the mayor who helps them get elected, he said.

He also wants the charter changed on what happens if a sitting mayor leaves office unexpectedly before completing his or her term. The document now says that a vacancy in the mayor's office is filled by the council president, either until the next regularly scheduled municipal general election or until the end of the mayor's term. Kennedy proposes a special election.

The discussion of the succession to the mayor's office has its roots in the concern about the criminal grand jury investigating Perez, Kennedy said, but it has since progressed beyond that.

"It's not unforeseen that [if a Democrat becomes president], that the mayor of Hartford could go to Washington," Kennedy said. "There are other events that could happen which could cause us to be without a mayor."

Finally, Kennedy wants the council to have more authority when it comes to commission appointments.

His proposals will be discussed at a meeting of the council's legislative affairs committee at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers.

Meanwhile, a plan that Hennessy said was a joint effort of Perez and the council leadership is before the council Monday night.

Hennessy said that Kennedy's proposal "clearly" jumps the gun, skipping the first step of a charter revision task force that would solicit input from the community before deciding to move forward with a charter revision commission to make any amendments.

"The majority of the council and the mayor feel the same way," Hennessy said. "I think you'll see that the task force a much more collaborative approach, which asks for public input before the questions are launched is the better way to go."

The city's charter allows for a periodic review of the charter in 2011 with the appointment of a charter revision commission, and then every 10 years after that. The charter also allows the council to establish a charter revision commission at any point it deems necessary. Any recommendations of a charter revision committee would be subject to the approval of first the council and then the city's residents.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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