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City residents focus on strong mayor and big-money project referendums

8/26/2005

MERIDEN City residents voiced their concerns to members of the city's Charter Revision Commission at a public hearing Thursday night, indicating they would like to see a referendum vote available on expensive city projects and consideration of a possible change to a strong mayor form of government.

The commission hosted its first hearing since the City Council formed the panel, giving residents their first chance to publicly comment on what aspects of the City Charter should be changed. Most residents addressed the referendum vote and the strong mayor form of government, but others discussed adding term limits for elected officials, altering the makeup of City Council meetings and switching the makeup of the council entirely.

Almost every speaker, however, focused on the referendum issue. All of the speakers addressing the referendum issue supported it, but the group was split between those who thought the threshold should be on all projects costing $1 million or more, and those who thought it should be higher. The City Council was forced to create the Charter Revision Commission when the Council of Neighborhoods, an association focusing on quality of life issues in the city, received more than 3,800 signatures on a petition saying it wanted a referendum vote.

"A referendum is a good idea. It's a tool that's succeeded in a lot of cities throughout the state," said City Council candidate and Planning Commission member Daniel Brunet. "The ceiling on that is a little low, though."

He suggested a higher ceiling, as did City Council candidate Diane Morenz and City Councilor Walter A. Shamock Jr., who felt between $5 million and $10 million was an acceptable level on which a referendum vote could be called. The referendum, however, would be incredibly useful, Shamock said.

"This is one item that definitely has to be on your agenda," Shamock told commission members.

Fred Cavallo spent most of his time at the microphone advocating for a strong mayor form of government. It would increase the accountability by the city's chief executive, because voters could remove him from office, Cavallo said.

"I'd love to go to the polls and fire the mayor by voting against him," Cavallo said. "I can't do that with the city manager."

Others, including Cherry Street resident Andrew Piatek, said they hadn't made up their minds yet on whether a strong mayor would be better. The way the city manager position is set up now, however, isn't working, Piatek added.

"The purpose of having the city manager is to have somebody apolitical in there," he said. He added though City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior "is so tied into the Democratic party it defeats the purpose of having a city manager."

Council of Neighborhoods Chairwoman Roxanne Macri brought up a number of points she would like to see examined, including altering the makeup of the City Council. Macri said she'd prefer more councilors and more areas throughout the city so more people could be involved. She would also like to see term limits, a concern she heard from a number of residents while gathering signatures for her organization's petition.

The limits wouldn't mean a person can't move from council to the Board of Education to mayor, but can't be in the same seat for a long period of time. "It simply means you can't sit in the same chair and wear the same hat forever," she said.

Community activist and Cottage Street resident Arline Dunlop also thought the council should switch the public comment portion of its meeting. Rather than have residents speak to items before the meeting, let them address the items as they are raised, Dunlop said.

Commission chairman Gerard I. Adelman said the panel would set up an e-mail address so residents can send their concerns to the panel. Another public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 7 at 5:30 p.m. at Washington Middle School, and Adelman said he hopes more residents can attend to let the commission know their views on the charter.


8/23/2005
Hearing on charter set for Thursday
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12/15/2005
Adelman's Charter Revision Commission submits its report
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