Question: Just found out that the city of West Haven has two separate Fire Departments. Why do we have two fire departments as opposed to one fire department?
Answer: There are many opinions regarding this issue. However, the Charter is not allowed to address how many Fire Districts there are or should be. This is covered by the State General Statutes, not the City Charter. That decision is at the sole discretion of the electors of the Fire District itself. The existing and proposed Charter only provide the language that allows the City to operate a Fire Department should that electorate choose to disband their independent status. The Charter does not have the authority to dictate anything else.
The current and proposed language is identical: "The City shall have, in addition to the powers specifically granted by the Constitution, General Statutes and the laws of the State of Connecticut, as amended, all powers implied in and incident to the powers to protect persons and property from fire and for the establishment and maintenance of a City Fire Department and for the management, discipline and control thereof."
Should you have any further questions or concerns about the Fire Departments, I recommend you attend one of the regularly scheduled City Council meetings or one of the Fire Commission meetings in your district. I believe they both offer the public an opportunity to address the governing body and the City Council has recently performed a study of this very issue.
Question: Why are there no checks or balances on the City Manager when it comes to financial ordinances?
Answer: This is an interesting question that required some research and playing out a host of different scenarios in order to understand the basis of the question and provide an answer. At first, I thought you were asking where the check and balance is to the City Manager on financial issues, for example the budget. That answer is fairly straight forward as the budget is still approved by the City Council so there is a direct check and balance to the City Manager. I then read your question again and saw that you were specifically referencing ordinances which is Section 3-2 (7, 8, and 9).
Section 7 discusses that City Council shall have the power to enact, amend or repeal ordinances not inconsistent with this Charter or the General Statutes. This is pretty much a lift from the current charter, with a few minor changes.
Section 8 discusses the Mayor’s role in the approval of ordinances and the process should an ordinance not be approved.
Section 9 says that “Any ordinance that financially impacts the City Budget needs the approval of the City Manager prior to it becoming effective. Once ratified by the Council, the City Manager has ten (10) business days to approve/disapprove the ordinance.” After going through many scenarios, I believe I understand the check and balance you are looking for. First, I would like to explain the intent and then the language itself and your question.
The intent was to make sure that the City Manager has the authority to decline an ordinance that is either not budgeted or causes the budget to go out of balance. For instance, if the Council passed an ordinance that would cost the taxpayers $1,000,000 and was not budgeted for, we want the City Manager to not allow that ordinance to pass on behalf of the taxpayers.
Your question, however, brings up an interesting scenario, if I am understanding your question properly. If a regular, non-budget impact, ordinance is not passed, it goes back through the cycle and gets voted on again and requires 2/3rds to then pass (override the Mayor’s veto). If the ordinance needs City Manager approval and he/she does not approve it, there is no language in the Charter that allows the City Council to veto the City Manager’s decision.
I suppose if you had a City Manager, who is an employee of the City, did not care about the city or the people, he/she reports to, then the City Manager could indeed not approve the ordinance if it impacts the budget. The City Council, however, will always have the option to amend and resubmit the ordinance.
Question: With changing to an appointed and credentialed format for Department Heads, do you foresee having to increase the salary levels of these positions, in order to attract qualified applicants? And will the current Department Heads that do not have all the appropriate credentials, be offered the opportunity to work towards achieving them without losing their job?
Answer: Yes, a little, and at some point down the road. As you know in sports, talent cost money. If these department leadership position upgrades are implemented thru charter revision, they are not retroactive, the new standards would kick in when a vacancy occurs, that is what the CRC intended. However that is a bit subjective, and ultimately a decision for the city manager, mayor, and city council to tackle as this applies to both present and future city department leaders.
In short I find it highly unlikely someone is going to loose their job the moment a new format is adopted. In fact if voted on in Nov 2020, the majority of the changes don't go into effect until Nov 2021. As for the Treasurer, Clerk, and Tax Collector, all 3 would be impacted at the next election cycle of 2021.
The City Treasurer is currently a part time paid position, the only change would from elected to appointed.
The City Clerk is required by state statute to be certified and we expect she is going thru that process now, but would be subject to appointment in the next election cycle .
We currently have a certified Tax collector on staff as a paid employee, in addition to the elected one. Ironically the elected TC is paid part time, and has authority outlined by state statute but without credentials, the goal here is to clean up the confusion and consolidate this into one paid professional position in charge of the Department.
I cannot be any clearer on this next point, at no time during our deliberations did the membership of the CRC EVER take anyone's position from any city department into consideration, every proposal we have made here has been with an eye on the future. The answer to can someone in place make the effort to upgrade their credentials in order to qualify, I guess the honest answer is sure in some cases but not all. As previously stated the goal was to raise the bar for the next generation of department leadership, not punish the current staff. Right now in many cases there are little or no standards outlined within the current Charter, which means almost anyone can, and have, land a job in city leadership through local political ties in which they have little to no experience. However for folks concerned about the city budget impact, it will be gradual, and in many cases quite a few other changes proposed within this report may reduce operating costs, which should free up $$ to offset the potential cost of new talent.
Question: Were term limits for elected officials (preferably two) considered? If not, why not?
Answer: Thank you for your question. Term Limits were one of the first things discussed by the Charter Revision Commission. In fact, the CRC had included a 3-term limit in the draft report to the lawyers. Surprisingly, we were informed from the Attorneys, that term limits are not legal any longer at the local level. There are municipalities that do have term limits, but that is because their Charter was grandfathered-in when the statute became the law. Should these municipalities ever open that section of their charter in the future, they will also need to change their language to "NO TERM LIMITS". This is very briefly discussed on page 9 of the PowerPoint presentation under slide "These items were discussed and not legally allowed to be included in the Charter Revision:".
Question: Why the decision to no longer stagger terms of BOE? Does this also apply to council positions? I don't mind going to a 4-year term but would like to see staggered terms for even greater consistency.
Answer: Thank you very much for the question. Currently the 13 member City Council is elected for 2-year terms, not staggered. So every 2 years, all 13 City Council members are up for re-election. The proposed change would move the terms of each City Council member to a 4 year term cycle instead of 2 year cycle. Since they are not staggered today, there is no change to that part of the election process.
Currently, each of the 9 Board of Education Members are elected for 4-year terms. These terms are staggered which means in one election we vote for 4 BOE members and in the next election we vote for 5 BOE members and then it alternates every 2 years. The proposed charter would take all 9 BOE members and put them on the same cycle as the City Council. So all 9 BOE members would be up for election at the same time every 4 years, just as the council. The main driver for this change was the election cycle itself and cost. Currently, the only positions we elect in WH that have staggered cycles are the BOE. However, if we are now having an election every 4 years instead of every 2 years, that would mean we would need a special election just for the BOE members every 2 years in order to keep them staggered.
In our research, we discovered that the average cost of an election in WH is approximately $115,000 per election cycle (this includes primaries and the actual election and the average is based on the last 3 elections in WH.) While I am sure the cost would be much less if we were just doing the BOE positions, the concern was that the turnout would be very low in that off year election. Therefore, instead of trying to hold an election every 2 years just for the BOE positions, the decision was made to un-stagger their terms to match everyone else in the city.
Follow-up question: I first off would like to thank you for your quick and thought out response. I have spent much time reading over and studying the charters and I appreciate you taking the time to answer my question.
Yes my question was specifically referring to Section 9. I find it strange that with all the time and work that members of your council continually claim was spent of these revisions that this scenario did not cross your mind? We are currently living in a pandemic, lets take that as an example. The residents come together and decide they want specific protection for the children going back to school. This would require plastic barriers, PPE, extra staff, maybe finding ways to add space to the school or another location to allow for proper social distancing. This requires an extra million from the budget. The citizens rally their city council, they then vote to pass this added new expense to the budget, it passes. However the City Manager doesn’t say believe this pandemic is even real, thinks its a hoax, or they are just sticklers to the budget. They say no and its vetoed, there is no recourse for the people of this city for this. This is not that far off of a hypothetical.
Having studied other city charters in towns that have been successful with city managers. A common thread through out most of them that I am seeing is that the City Manager actually acts as a manager and it is the elected body that acts as the decider. In these towns it is the City Manager that prepares and then submits the budgets and proposals to the city council, who then (the elected body) votes on. By having a City Manager prepare and submit the budget, those promoted credentials that we keep hearing about would be put to actual use. I feel as though our charter revisions allow someone unfeathered veto power to our cities budget, and it scares me. I understand the intent of the language in the charter, but this is law and the structure of our government, we need clarity not good intentions. I find the the answers by members of the commission are always phrased on this positive, well meaning and involved person holding any of these positions. I don’t see very much track record in West Haven for this and have little faith that this will do much more than further the current decay of the city.
I thank you for your service to this city and sharing in the conversation.
Answer: Following your original question, and the scenario laid out below, I do see the possibility because there is no "loop-back" in the proposed Charter for the City Council to override a veto of the CM. In hindsight, I believe the Charter should have had this procedure laid out. Using the BOE as an example is probably not the best choice, as the BOE has authority over their spending, but I can see a similar scenario on the City side.
As far as it being strange, I can offer this. The proposed charter is "strange" in many ways when compared to other municipalities, simply due to the dynamics of WH. The proposed charter was not a direct lift from any one municipality or the templates provided by the International City Management Association. We attempted to take the best of those charters and tailor it for West Haven. For example, as far as I know, we would be the only municipality that has the Mayor automatically become the City Council Chairperson. That was not in any other charters, but we felt that at this point in our city, not having a Mayor at all, or not having the Mayor be the sole person responsible selecting and presenting the CM to the Council for approval, would be items that, while strange, would fit our current dynamics the best. We felt the electorate would have an issue not being able to directly vote for the CEO, which the City Manager would be per State Statutes. Therefore, so we settled on having the Mayor select this position using a search committee and the Mayor presenting this candidate to the council for ratification so the people could then hold the Mayor responsible in the next election if the Mayor chose a poor CM.
As far as the hours various CRC member claim to have put in on this revision, I can speak for myself and yes I personally put in several hundred hours outside the 28 two-three hour meetings we had at City Hall and I know others put in many hours as well. That was a personal choice made to try and provide the electorate of WH a well researched and solid proposal to change the structure of Government in the City of West Haven. Does that mean the proposed charter is perfect? Absolutely Not. By no means is it perfect and I believe you have just uncovered an item that, while rare, could possibly happen and can hopefully be changed with future Charter Revisions.
This as an employer/employee relationship, identical to any public company. If I look at my company, we have a Board of Directors (City Council) and a CEO (City Manager). While the CEO has the ultimate authority, if he chooses to ignore the Board he will probably be unemployed immediately or at the end of his contract, depending on the severity of the decision. The same dynamic would exist here. So while I agree there is no loop-back in the current proposal for specific ordinances, the ultimate check and balance lies with the City Council's authority to get a new City Manager. Hopefully this is enough until we can close that oversight.
Question: Having the possibility of the entire BOE changing every 4 years does not make sense. There should still be staggered terms with. Once you get past the current terms, you wouldn't need a 2 year election; they could be set up to stagger every 4 years with the same city election.
Answer: I appreciate your stance. Can you expand on why it doesn't make sense? On the BOE side we have a professional Superintendent and the role of the BOE, in WH and any CT municipality, is to provide policy and procedure to the Administration. The day-to-day working of the BOE is completely controlled by the Superintendent. So, in the unlikely chance that the entire BOE did get replaced, we still have a professional Superintendent and Administrative team that is running the school system. I am not quite certain how to keep 4-year terms on a 4-year cycle for the BOE and keep them un-staggered. If you were going to only have 5 people up on one election cycle and 4 people up on the next election cycle, that would mean their term is 8 years. So 4 people get elected in 2020, then next election cycle would be 2024 when those 4 people are not up for election, the other 5 are up for election, then the next cycle is 2028 when those 4 people would be up for election again. That is an 8 year term which is not allowed by CT state statute. If you prefer the staggered 4-year terms, the only option, unless I am missing something, is 2 year elections for the BOE.
Comment: Thank you for taking the time to respond again. You are absolutely right that would create 8 year terms. I still think staggered terms are the way to go but don't see a way to accomplish that without staying the course. There are a lot of other needed changes in the revision so I guess we'll just have to see how it all works out.