Resumption of Hamden Charter review sparks GOP concern over party’s role in city government

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HAMDEN – The resurrection of the City’s Charter Review Commission has raised concern among some Republican officials about the party’s voice in a municipal government where power dynamics changed after the November elections.

But Democrats say they have no intention of excluding Republicans, and a Democratic adviser has claimed the majority party has done nothing to justify such fears.

While the city has long leaned for Democrats, the latest electoral cycle has brought about a sweeping change of government. Alongside a Democratic list that promised change, Mayor Lauren Garrett ousted former mayor Curt Balzano Leng, who has positioned himself as a moderate.

Meanwhile, Democratic councilors who allied with Leng lost the September primaries, while some incumbents did not seek re-election.

These events paved the way for a new council ready to resurrect a charter proposal that was never passed due to a vote that saw Republicans join Leng-aligned Democrats.

The revised charter, drafted over nearly a year of meetings by a 15-member charter review committee, included provisions for four-year mayoral terms and the creation of a finance council to advise the budget process.

It also aimed to strengthen civilian oversight of the police service and increase diversity on boards and commissions.

Council President Dominique Baez announced in Monday’s meeting that she wanted the city to re-establish a Charter Review Commission to build on the work done by the previous one.

This time it would only have five members, she said at the meeting, a recording of which is available on the city’s website.

His motion was adopted – there were only three votes against – but not without a significant step back from one of those who voted against, City Councilor Marjorie Bonadies, R-9.

Representation of minority parties

Bonadies told the New Haven Register that she was concerned the current government might not appoint Republicans to the CRC or other committees. The CRC, she said, is especially important because it decides how residents are governed.

“They basically said Republicans would not be included in this government,” she said.

When asked if such a sentiment is explicitly expressed, Bonadies said she based her conclusion on several recent events.

“If (the Republicans’ exclusion) doesn’t happen, I’ll be pleasantly surprised,” Bonadies said. “I’m just taking all these little data points and I’m like, ‘OK, they’re not going to be inclusive. “

These events include Garrett’s announcement that she is appointing two Democrat Police Commissioners as well as Daniel Dunn, who the Registrar of Electors says will be registered as a member of the Working Families Party from January 1, after being registered. democrat.

Since state law limits the number of party members who can sit on a committee, preventing Democrats from having a super-majority, Bonadies is concerned that the government will fill the remaining seats with non-republicans.

But Garrett plans to appoint a Republican commissioner and an unaffiliated commissioner to the two remaining seats on the police commission, she said Thursday. She wasn’t ready to announce their names yet.

“I don’t think there is any validity to” Bonadies’ claims, Garret said. “She’s guessing from an incomplete list of nominations or board appointments, and really if you look at Hamden’s registrations, we have more unaffiliated voters than Republicans, so I think that ‘ It is important that we have representation from Republicans, Democrats and »unaffiliated voters.

As of October, about 14,000 registered voters were unaffiliated, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office, which shows that about 19,000 residents were registered Democrats and 4,000 were registered Republicans.

In the last election, Garrett, a Democrat, won 6,653 votes to 5,349 votes for Republican candidate Ron Gambardella, according to the state’s online constituency.

Bonadies argued that Republicans have a say as the party receives the second highest number of votes at election time. Omitting Republicans from the commission, she argued, “would deprive thousands of people of the right to vote.”

General Councilor Corey O’Brien, who is also the majority leader of the council, said that despite all the talk about exclusion, Democrats had taken no real action to exclude Republicans from the conversation.

“There really are no concrete grievances to report,” he said. “They’re complaining about something that didn’t actually happen.”

The CRC

As another source of concern, Bonadies pointed to Baez’s indication that she was going to propose a list of CRC members herself.

But Baez said she believes the CRC should have Republican representation.

“The Republican Party has not been excluded from the latest Charter Review Commission process and it will not be excluded from it,” Baez said. “We are looking for fair representation at all levels. “

She argued that the biggest problem with representation was that the general public did not have the opportunity to vote on the charter last year.

“The biggest parody of the last charter commission was that we were arguing about party and representation… (but) ignored (citizens’) opinions by not putting them to the polls,” he said. she declared. “After all this time, energy, money and effort, the citizens of Hamden deserve to ring the bell to find out whether these are things they want or not, and I think this is real democracy.”

Baez, who told colleagues on Monday that a small commission should help the process move fast enough that the charter is on the ballot in time for the 2022 election, said she was trying to make the process more efficient by avoiding lengthy deliberations on the commission. members.

But she also takes suggestions from colleagues and the public. Residents who are interested in serving can also contact Kim Renta, Clerk of the Legislative Council, at [email protected]

“This is the second time that we (establish a Charter Review Board) in, you know, two years in a row. There should be some streamlining, ”she said.

The list will still require full board approval, according to Steven Mednick, a lawyer who advises the charter review process.

General Councilor Elizabeth “Betty” Wetmore, a Republican who also voted against reactivating the commission, said her concerns also boiled down to whether the new commission would have Republican representation.

She suggested that the enlargement of the commission would make this easier.

“I don’t mind it being revived. I just wish it was bipartisan, ”said Wetmore, who also said she was always ready to give the new board a chance.

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