Vote Yes on Stamford Charter Revision, Close Loophole on Land Use Boards Memberships

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Dear Residents of Stamford,

You are being lied to. A large, expensive, yellow political mailer went out to voters in Stamford asking them to “Vote No” on the charter revisions. This mailer is loaded with lies and statements that are not factual. The charter revisions that are proposed will actually make our city government more accountable, transparent, and democratic. They would require more public outreach and even more public hearings on decisions that the city faces.  Seems like a no brainer, right? Who wouldn’t want that, you ask? Large corporate real estate developers, who make tens of millions of dollars off of building what seems like a never ending supply of luxury apartment units here in Stamford. I’m sure you’ve noticed them.  

How do they do that? They get approval by the most powerful boards in the city: the planning and zoning boards. Each board contains 5 members (and 3 alternate members). In many municipalities, the members of these bodies are elected because the decisions they make are tremendously impactful to their communities. In other words, the founders of those municipalities felt that planning/zoning board members should be directly accountable to the people. That’s not the case here in Stamford. The planning and zoning boards are NOT elected positions in our city. Here, the mayor nominates someone and the elected Board of Representatives, the body I have served on since 2017 and am the Majority Leader of, interviews the candidate in a public forum and then votes by majority to approve or reject them. All approved members serve a three-year term. After their term, if the mayor reappoints them, they get interviewed by the Board of Representatives again where we review their voting record and either approve or reject them by majority.

Seems like a decent system of checks and balances, right? At least these powerful planning/zoning members are being held accountable by the elected city representatives, right? WRONG. There is a GIANT loophole in this process. If the mayor does not reappoint them after their term is up, they just get to sit on the board indefinitely, making decisions for you, forever, without ever going through another interview process where they could be held accountable for their voting history. It gets worse. This loophole is so bad that in the event that a member does come before the Board of Representatives and we reject them by a majority vote, they still get to remain on the board indefinitely if the mayor chooses not to nominate someone else.

How bad is this loophole? BAD. 47% of all board and commission members in Stamford ARE EXPIRED. This means they serve without any accountability to you. But wait, there’s more! When you look at the land use boards the percentage of expired members jumps to over 60%!  Seven members of the planning board are expired. The 8th member who is an alternate, has just over a month left of their term. One of the expired members was even rejected by the Board of Representatives in November of 2019, and that person is still there making decisions for you. Things aren’t much better on the zoning board. There is one current member of the zoning board and three vacancies while all other members except one alternate are expired. One of these expired members was rejected by the Board of Representatives in July of 2021 and they are still there making decisions for you. The chair of the zoning board has been expired since December 1, 2017 and will begin his third three-year term of expiration this December. This, my friends, is the real power grab.

When you are not accountable to the people, you become susceptible to influence by special interests, which is why it is essential that we vote yes on charter revision. Vote yes because the charter revision closes this loophole – if the mayor does not nominate someone within 6 months of an expiration, the Board of Representatives would then have the ability to nominate and interview someone to take over the expired seat. That’s what this is all about, the membership of the planning and zoning boards. This is the hidden agenda that they are covering up; they do not want the membership of the land use boards changed. They rely on the current members who say yes to virtually every large scale housing project that comes before them – and that’s exactly how the multi-million and billion dollar developers, and their law firms, like it. They have a massive financial interest in you voting no. If you VOTE YES, the members of these boards and commissions become accountable to the people, which means the money train may have to slow down and they will have to give back to our community more in order to get their projects passed.

This is a David and Goliath situation where big money is protecting its interests which are in direct conflict with yours. The mailer you received must have cost around $20k and was professionally designed to deceive you. The charter revision was not a power grab by a few; it was passed by an almost super majority of your city elected legislative body. It will not increase your taxes, cause government dysfunction, or raise housing costs. These are all lies, every one of them. They are using fear tactics to get you to vote against what is in your best interest so that they can continue business as usual, at the expense of your quality of life and community. Don’t fall for it Stamford. They think you’re too stupid to see the truth. I have more faith in you than that.

Be prepared, the “vote no people” have a lot of money and are going to go to great lengths to protect the current broken charter we have. Don’t be fooled; follow the money. You deserve better. On Nov 7th, vote yes for a smarter charter.

Nina Sherwood
Stamford

Sherwood, a Democrat, is a City Representative of District 8 of the Stamford Board of Representatives