The city council has decided to hold a series of public hearings to gauge public interest in revising the city's strong-mayor charter.
The move, approved Monday by a 6-3 vote, came after weighing two competing proposals on the charter revision issue: one from Mayor Eddie A. Perez that called for creating a charter revision task force with mayoral appointees to research the need for charter change, and another by Councilman Kenneth Kennedy that would have launched a revision commission immediately.
By voting to hold the public hearings in front of one of its own committees, instead of a task force, the council retained control of the process without ceding authority to Perez, some council members said.
"This was really a compromise position," said Matt Ritter, the chairman of the council's legislative affairs committee, which will schedule and hold the hearings. "There was a lot of agreement that there needs to be more public input into the process."
Many members of the council campaigned on promises that they would revise the new strong-mayor charter, which has been criticized for giving Perez sweeping powers without substantial checks and balances by the council.
Ritter said the council is likely to create the charter revision commission after the hearings, which will be held between June 1 and Aug. 1, ultimately using the public input to guide the commission's mission. The location of the hearings has not been finalized.
Kennedy, one of the three to vote against the council resolution, said he did not see the hearings as a compromise but rather as the exact reason charter change is needed. By delaying the creation of a commission — an authority given exclusively to the council — he said the council has again capitulated to Perez, essentially creating a task force with a different name.
"I can't say this is the council exercising its own authority," Kennedy said. "We are still having an extra step in this process that is completely unnecessary. It does not guarantee there will be a charter revision commission. And it has been my experience in the past that delay equals denial.
"My colleagues say it is doing due diligence," he said. "We'll see."
Kennedy said that a charter revision commission, if created, can hold its own public hearings. No previous charter revision commission in Hartford was preceded by a task force or public hearings, he said, because the commission probably would have duplicated that work anyway. The commission, regardless of the specific charges given to it by the city council, can pursue whatever issues it sees fit, he said.
The city's charter allows for a periodic review of the charter, starting in 2011 with the appointment of a revision commission and then again every 10 years after that. The charter also allows the council to establish a revision commission at any point it deems necessary. Any recommendations of a charter revision commission would be subject to the approval of the council first and then the city's residents.
When asked about the council deciding to hold its own public hearings instead of forming a task force, Sarah Barr, Perez's director of communications, said the mayor thinks public input is "essential."
"That is the key component," she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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