Hartford's Strong Mayor System Gets A Tweak Or Two
Hartford Courant Editorial
March 24, 2013
The big news from Hartford's charter revision commission is less what it did and more what it — wisely — didn't do. Its proposals, if adopted by the city council and voters, will not significantly change the "strong mayor" charter adopted in 2002.
The strong-mayor system with a nine-member council elected at-large is a vast improvement over the weak mayor mishmash that it replaced, and the commission was right to keep it in place, albeit with a little fine-tuning.
The 2002 charter created an automatic review process every decade so that residents could make whatever changes were deemed necessary. The 11-member charter revision commission began work last year and presented a draft document this month.
The commission had a robust debate about whether to have council members elected from geographical districts rather than at-large, but — correctly — decided to retain the at-large elections. This is a small city, and most neighborhoods face the same issues.
In the decade under the new charter, some felt the balance of power between the council and the mayor skewed to the mayor. Some of the commission's proposals give the council somewhat more power in appointments and budget review, without stripping the mayor of executive power.
Perhaps the most notable changes recommended by the commission involve campaign funding and registrars of voters.
The commission proposes that the city embrace public funding of local campaigns. Public funding lessens special interest influence and opens the process to more people. The only question is whether the city, looking at a projected $70 million deficit for next year, can afford it, or if funds are available from another source.
The commission recommends that instead of the current three elected registrars, there be one professional, nonpartisan registrar. This is an excellent idea, one that could save the city a half-million dollars a year with no loss of efficiency. Passing it should inspire the city's legislative delegation to push for a slight revision in state law, which is necessary for the charter change to go into effect.
All in all, the commission should be credited with choosing not to fix what wasn't broken.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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