The Shelton Democratic Town Committee voted, after almost two hours of discussion, to urge the citizens of Shelton to vote “no” on charter revision.
The majority of the changes to the charter are grammatical as opposed to substantive. The three substantive changes involve 1) changing the term of office for Planning and Zoning, 2) adding two members to the Board of Ethics and 3) requiring expired terms on Boards and Commissions to be filled in one month. While these changes are worthwhile, the revisions fail to address two significant deficiencies in the charter. If the charter passes, then it does not need to be revisited for ten years.
The first significant problem is the selection of members and the independence of the Board of Ethics. Currently, the Board of Aldermen selects the members and that process was not changed. However, in practice, the mayor nominates the ethics board members. Thus, those that could be brought before the Board of Ethics are the same individuals that select the board. A different method of selection is needed because an ethics commission is an oversight body and does not make government policy it must be independent. The selection of ethics board members could be through election or party nomination. The unaffiliated individual, could self-nominate. The Aldermen could accept or reject the individuals. With regard to the unaffiliated member, the charter revision does not address the very problem that led to last year’s resignation of a ethics member. This member changed party affiliation from Republican to Unaffiliated simply to be in compliance with the current charter — certainly a questionable action. A clause should be added requiring the unaffiliated individual to be so for a specific period of time.
The second major failure in the charter revisions is the lack of proper financial oversight of the city’s budget. Recently, we have learned that hundreds of thousands of dollars were stolen from the city of Shelton. The Aldermen has the fiscal responsibility to oversee city spending.The mayor administers the budget. The Aldermen’s current fiscal responsibilities are not clearly defined in the charter. The Aldermen have an audit done every year and the problem of the theft of money was not discovered until three years later. Further, the Aldermen’s Finance Committee does not meet on a regular basis and budget numbers often are months behind. It is clear that the Aldermen must take more responsibility for the budget and ensure that there is proper oversight. Common practices include regular monitoring of budgetary performance to give early warning of potential problems. It is an essential practice in demonstrating accountability. This way citizens will know that our tax dollars are being spent as approved and we have proper controls to reduce the possibility of future theft of city funds.
Because the charter must be updated every ten years by law, passing the proposed version will leave us with a charter still in need of significant repair and no incentive to the current and future administrations to make any changes until it is absolutely required by law.
Vote “no” on charter revision.
David Gioiello is the chair of Shelton’s Democratic Town Committee.