Vote No on Charter Revision, Eroding Executive Power is an Improper Legislative Remedy

Credit: Robin Breeding


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To the Editor:

On November 7th, voters will be asked to make dramatic changes to Stamford’s current Charter. I urge voters to proceed with caution and to vote NO. Here’s why:

Last year, in a 5-1 decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court released its opinion in Strand/BRC Group, LLC vs. Board of Representatives. The court held that the Board overstepped its authority by purporting to verify the validity of a protest petition. The court clarified that under Stamford’s Charter, this is a function reserved for the Planning Board, which, if applied correctly, would have never allowed the Board to decide a question within the realm of the Planning Board. The court further stated, “The Board of Representatives is entitled to discretion when acting in its legislative capacity, but it is not at liberty to act in contravention of charter provisions expressly limiting that authority to specified conditions. Nor are that board’s legislative actions insulated from judicial review when it has exceeded its authority under the express provisions of the charter.”

A year later, some members of the same Board seek to weaken guardrails the court identified, particularly the composition of the Planning and Zoning Boards. The same Board that argued under appeal for the court to disregard their illegal acts (the court kindly declined) is now asking voters to entrust them with making drastic changes to Stamford’s Charter. With prior precedent being an indicator, I urge voters to reject entreaties from the Smarter Charter crowd for their lack of candor.

While I agree with parts of the Charter Review question, I cannot vote for it due to a dangerous proposition: weakening the power of the mayor to appoint qualified individuals to Boards and Commissions. To usurp such power from the mayor is to embolden the Board of Representatives. What incentive will the Board have to approve any qualified individuals put forward by the mayor when they can exercise newly minted appointment power and place unqualified individuals on the Planning and Zoning Boards at will to do their political bidding? Worse, they can keep expired positions vacant and claim a lack of quorum, bringing the work of essential Boards to a deliberate halt.

In Federalist No. 77, Alexander Hamilton warns of the importance of the Appointments Clause in the US Constitution. In advocating for the Executive enjoying the power to appoint and the Legislative providing advice and consent, Hamilton emphasizes the dangers of deviation, writing, “Every mere council of appointment, however constituted, will be a conclave, in which cabal and intrigue will have their full scope. Their number, without an unwarrantable increase of expense, cannot be large enough to preclude a facility of combination. And as each member will have his friends and connections to provide for, the desire of mutual gratification will beget a scandalous bartering of votes and bargaining for places.”

In weakening the appointment process, some members of the Board seek to undermine this fundamental ideal. Should the Board succeed in eroding power granted to the mayor for the whimsical adventure of testing boundaries, then the same judiciary that found prior Board actions to be illegal will be the only meaningful checks and balances, a proposition likely to be persistent and certainly costly to taxpayers.

Whether you voted for Caroline Simmons or not, she shall be entrusted with the same rights and privileges as every occupant that preceded her. One argument, involving expired terms, predates her tenure. The correct remedy is not to weaken executive authority, provided that existing checks and balances do exist, but for the Board to work with the mayor to fill expired terms or re-appoint individuals prior to a term expiring. If intent is to be a guide, then the recent rejection of Keith Walker and the stalled nomination of Bianca Shinn to the Zoning Board leave me doubtful that expired terms are a sincere concern of the Smarter Charter movement. The more plausible goal is an extreme overhaul of the Planning and Zoning Boards with appointees aligned with the partisan agenda of certain members of the Board of Representatives.

Lastly, let me take exception to the misnomer known as Reform Stamford. Many of the central figures in this movement have roots in the Green Party, using the Democratic Party as a vessel for mere political expediency, largely for the ballot access benefits that major parties receive. An ideologically driven, purely partisan coalition focused on my way or the highway as a goal with less interest in actual legislating, enacting beneficial policy changes, or serving the public good hardly meets the definition of sincere reformists.

On November 7th, I will be voting NO, with a full understanding that a legislative body intent on weakening an elected mayor and misleading the public to codify future misdeeds is not government for the people but a rogue government working against the people while simultaneously claiming to be the guardians of good government.

Thomas Concannon

Concannon was an Independent candidate for State Representative in 2022 for Stamford’s 146th District