The Council's Resistance To Change
The Councilâs Resistance To Change
Newtownâs Legislative Council has scheduled a public hearing on the changes to the townâs charter proposed by the Charter Revision Commission for July 11 at 7:30 in Edmond Town Hall. Hearings are supposed to give the townspeople the opportunity to voice opinions on issues of importance so that their elected representatives may better represent them when deciding those issues. Thatâs the way it is supposed to work, but the leaders of the Legislative Council have given every indication that they have already made up their minds about the proposed charter changes. The hearing will be just another formality for them to endure before they vote the charter changes down. This is what concerns us:
Å¸ At the Charter Revision Commissionâs May 30 public hearing on its proposals, Legislative Council Vice Chairman Melissa Pilchard rises to tell the commission that she disagrees with âvirtually every sentenceâ in their proposal while also complaining that she hadnât received the panelâs report in time to read it thoroughly. She also likened the proposal to give the first selectman veto power over council decisions to the power accorded to Hitler.
Å¸ Two weeks ago, Mrs Pilchard tried to have the nine months of work by the Charter Revision Commission declared null and void, asserting that the council had violated state statutes in creating the panel with less than a two-thirds vote. That might have been the case if the council had not also violated Robertsâ Rules by trying to rescind a previous two thirds vote creating the commission at a meeting in September. The first error, according to the townâs attorney, nullified the second, and the council ended up appointing a legally constituted Charter Revision Commission in spite of itself.
Å¸ Last week, council chairman Pierre Rochman announced that the council may not finish its deliberations on the charter in time to get it on the November 6 ballot. He called the Election Day date âmeaningless,â and suggested that the complexity of the proposed charter changes was an acceptable excuse for the council to miss its deadline.
Å¸ This week, Mr Rochman suggested that townspeople donât really care about the charter and how their government does its business. âDo they care to know what changes are being proposed?â he asked. âI donât think so.â He went on to criticize the Charter Revision Commissionâs work, saying, âTheyâve made it unnecessarily complicated.â
The problem the council leaders have with the proposed charter changes is obvious. They donât like any proposals that reverse in any way the growing powers the council has assumed over the years. The irony is that the council itself set the stage for the sweeping changes proposed by the Charter Revision Commission by giving the panel a rather disorganized charge in 28 parts that forced a wide ranging inquiry into Newtownâs government and its areas of weakness. And one of the more glaring weaknesses is the growing imbalance of power in local government.
Unfortunately, the town may never get to decide whether the Charter Revision Commissionâs proposals to address this imbalance are good ones because among the councilâs powers is the power to approve or reject proposed charter changes. The comments and actions of the chairman and vice chairman of the Legislative Council in recent weeks suggest that the council is preparing to protect its turf, blocking the revision proposals from ever reaching the ballot in November, if necessary.
Â We donât know how the whole council stands on these issues. Most members, to their credit, have not engaged in the campaign of prejudicial comments undertaken by their leadership prior to the public hearing. Letâs hope that as they listen to the public on July 11, they allow themselves to think outside the box of the councilâs self-interest and hubris and remain open to the possibility that there may be another, perhaps better, way to run the town.
We donât agree that Newtowners donât care how their government is run. We donât agree that the charter revision proposals are too complicated for them to understand. And we donât agree that it is somehow okay for the council to blow off its responsibility to conclude its discussions on the charter changes in time to present them to the public on November 6. Schedule more meetings if you must, Mr Rochman, but get the job done! Election Day is not âmeaningless.â It is the time when the most voters will be focusing on local issues and town government. It is the time when Newtown traditionally votes on charter changes. And this year it will be the time when Newtown learns what the Legislative Council values most â its own welfare or the townâs.
The Final Report of the Charter Revision Commission can be found in its entirety on The Beeâs Web site, www.NewtownBee.com. We urge everyone to read it and to let the council know what you think at the July 11 hearing.