To the Editor:
Attempting to update “rules of the road” — the Stamford city charter — is a challenging task. Many voters pay scant attention to local government functions (or dysfunction), and people with busy lives lack context to grasp the purpose of the proposed changes. Thus, after countless hours of negotiating to agreement on proposed changes, the unassigned but inevitable next task is to attract the attention of a distracted public in hopes they will vote — one way or another — in an informed way.
Those who served on the commission and members of the board of representatives – not a group with unlimited funds to spare – believed in their work enough to pull together $38K, a significant amount of which was their own money to pay for materials to inform the public. When special interests amass a minimum of $100K (estimates are that the final figure will be much higher), this exercise in democracy risk being outshouted and overwhelmed.
Nonetheless the commission’s work has been an exercise in democracy unlike any I am aware of in recent Stamford history. The Charter Review Commission ten years ago, in contrast, appears to have consisted of seven people (at or close to the minimum members required), who were mostly home owners and mostly from north of the Merritt (as was the mayor) with an average age in the mid fifties.
The 2023 Stamford Charter Review Commission included fifteen people (the state max) from varied districts, races, and economic situations, many of whom had no previous experience participating in city government, but brought widely varied experiences living in Stamford. Coming to agreement was not a given.
Still, unwelcomed in Stamford halls of power were the answers they seemed to have to a question former NYC Mayor Ed Koch asked incessantly, “How am I doing?” They said things need improving, and recommended ways to do it.
Are the recommendations pristine and perfect? Some would argue that they’re not. On balance, I believe they improve government accountability and transparency. Rare is the candidate or cause that’s 100% perfect., and the areas being addressed are sound areas to consider improving.
The next mandated charter review is in ten years. Can Stamford afford to wait that long for another crack at perfection?