Charter revision stalls: GOP fears creation of one-party town

Republicans and Democrats both seem to agree that it’s time to open up the city charter and see if it needs some updating. But GOP concerns about losing minority representation on the Board of Aldermen will likely keep the charter closed for now.

The city charter is the city’s rule book, so to speak, outlining how officials are elected, election policies, powers and duties of various officials, formation of commissions, and the like. The contents can be found on the city’s website at in the document center section.

“Leaders of both parties agree that revision is long overdue,” said Democratic Town Committee Chairman Rich Smith. “The charter, in its current state, is at risk of becoming irrelevant. Our charter is a living document; ongoing changes in city operations, state statutes and other factors require the charter be reconsidered on an ongoing basis.”

From its early adoption in 1959, the charter was revised every year or two until 1983. It hasn’t been revised since then, Smith said.

The process, as prescribed by state law, requires the Board of Aldermen vote to approve charter revision. The aldermen also are tasked with appointing a Charter Revision Committee. The appointed committee would be given a recommended scope by the Board of Aldermen.

The committee is then required to hold two public meetings, then submit a draft report to the aldermen, which can make recommendations for changes. The committee would then submit its final recommendation to the aldermen, which may vote up or down on sending it for citywide approval through a ballot.

“Since the revision to the charter, various city departments have been abolished, created or consolidated,” Smith said, outlining some of the charter issues he thinks need to be addressed.

More important to residents, some officials would like to see the mayor and city clerk changed from a two-year to a four-year term. Smith said that would provide more stability, and keep city leaders from having to take time out to campaign every two years.

There is also some concern about the Board of Education. “The way the charter currently elects members to the Board of Education could result in a completely new and inexperienced board being elected,” Smith said. “Staggering and lengthening the term to four years will alleviate this problem.”

The Democrats would like to see charter revisions ready to go on the ballot at the November elections.

Charter revision was recently on the Board of Aldermen’s agenda, but the matter was tabled.

Republican Town Committee Chairman Paul Beckwith said his party is open to the idea of charter revision, but doesn’t want to rush things.

“The Republican caucus does not want to rush into charter revision without having some questions answered first regarding process and what exactly the commission would be charged with,” Beckwith said.

“We have worked with Mayor [Ben] Blake on those who would serve on the commission, and we are pleased with all those who would be appointed,” Beckwith continued.

But Anthony Giannattasio, Republican minority leader on the Board of Aldermen, said he doesn’t think the Republican aldermen are going to vote to open the charter.

The matter may come up at the next meeting, but there needs to be a supermajority vote to open the charter. That means the Democrats will need one or two of the Republicans to vote with them on the matter, and that is something Giannattasio doesn’t think is going to happen.

“Once it’s open, it’s open to anything and everything,” Giannattasio said, adding that means the Democrats could propose getting rid of minority representation on the Board of Aldermen.

Right now, the charter calls for minority representation: For every three people elected to the board in each district, only two can be from the same party.

“We’re afraid they might try to get rid of that,” Giannattasio said, explaining that Milford could end up with a city with one-party rule.

It takes a supermajority to open the charter, but only a majority to approve suggested charter revisions. Since the Democrats have a 9-6 majority on the Board of Aldermen, their suggestions would most likely be approved.

“We don’t have the leverage,” Giannattasio said.

Smith said, however, that the Democrats would not push for eliminating minority representation.

“It came up in discussions,” Smith said, “and everyone agreed not to include it. So no, it is not in the scope and would not be supported by our side.”