Hartford Charter Revision Commission: March 19, 2009

What I am learning from attending these meetings is that legalese is every bit as convoluted as reputed to be; hence, lawyers should be as far away from writing/modifying the language of law as is humanly possible. Given that EmGee has broken issues down into plain English, I know that some lawyers are capable of clear writing and thinking.

The Charter Revision Commission took a recess to decipher the draft amendments of Chapter III of the charter; it appeared that Attorney Mednick, who was not present, had omitted some information discussed at the previous meeting. Later, Commissioner Anderson asked for Discussion Item 4 to be better explained, as the language was misleading.
Most of the meeting seemed focused on discussion of four items. Primarily, commissioners discussed whether or not the points were worth discussing.

Items discussed:

1. Possible Amendment to Chapter VIII Sec. 3(b)(ii) to make clear the council, not the corporation counsel, has the power to choose any lawyer the council elects to hire to represent it.

2. Possible Amendment to Chapter IV Sec. 1(a) to make clear that the council may decrease its compensation via ordinance and without the need for voter approval.

3. Possible Amendments to Chapter IV, V, and VII to provide that the Ethics Commission shall be a mandatory commission, comprised of 5 members, no more than 3 of whom shall be of the same political party, serving staggered terms, with 3 members to be appointed by the Council, 1 by the Mayor, and 1 by the City Treasurer; and to further provide that the appointments by the Mayor and City Treasurer are not subject to approval by the Council.

4. Possible Amendment to Chapters IV, V, and VII to provide that, should the City elect to create an [sic] Freedom of Information Act advisory committee, its members are to be appointed by the Council.

Commissioner Brandon asked for a clarification of the necessity of the first item for discussion. Commissioner Aponte referred to this item as a “non-issue” and that discussion of it was a “waste of time.” This was after Commissioner Rowtham-Kennedy spoke at length in favor of this, saying that an attorney needs to represent his client, and currently, Corporation Counsel is not clear on who his client is; Rowtham-Kennedy said that Corporation Counsel works for the city, not for the mayor. Commissioner Anderson brought up the dilemma of potential conflicts between Corporation Counsel, and the Council-appointed counsel: If there was a conflict between the two, who would be cited as the authority? During the public comment period, Ron Armstrong indicated that he believed there was/could be a conflict of interest in both the mayor and council sharing Corporation Counsel.

As mentioned, Anderson asked for clarification of Item #4. In it, the term “City” refers to a required ordinance, and “elect” means choose or decide, as opposed to vote or appoint.

During the Public Comment period, when people are given about five minutes each to share their concerns, Councilman Kennedy spoke for 25 minutes. I timed it. It should be pointed out that some from the City Council, Kennedy included, bogarted the first public hearing. It can’t be that difficult to strike a healthy balance between no comment from the Mayor and City Council, and extended commentary. Moreover, several of his comments pertained to issues already discussed by the commission. As if it could not get more tedious, there was a question posed by his wife, Commissioner Rowtham-Kennedy, that Councilman Kennedy had a very precise and seemingly planned answer for.

In a way, a lot of work seemed accomplished at the meeting. The discussion items were moved through, some major errors were located in the draft amendments, and about half an hour was allowed for public comment at the beginning of the meeting. At the end, Councilman Deutsch brought the commission up to speed with what ensued at and after the March 9th meeting for appointing people to the new FOI Advisory Board. Still, the practical side of me says that there is a way to be productive, thoughtful, and down-to-earth, and that the charter revision commission needs to find a way to tap into that.

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