This story is part of CT Mirror Explains, an ongoing effort to distill our wide-ranging reporting into a "what you need to know" format and provide practical information to our readers.
As Connecticut residents voted on municipal candidates in 168 of the state’s 169 municipalities last week, voters in New Haven and Stamford were faced with another question as well: Whether to approve proposed charter revisions to their cities.
The charter revision process, which occurs once every 10 years in both cities, is the process through which municipalities can amend their constitution.
New Haven overwhelmingly voted to ratify its charter changes, which most notably include increasing the terms for its mayor and alders from two to four years, while Stamford voted down its revisions.
Stamford’s contest had become a proxy battle between the incumbent Democratic Mayor Caroline Simmons and the city’s Board of Representatives, which was hoping to use the revision to shift some executive appointment powers from the mayor to itself. Simmons prevailed, with 57% of residents voting down the revision.
Here’s what to know about both charter revision pushes.
Extended mayor, alder terms in New Haven start in 2027
Starting in 2027, the city’s mayor, alders and city clerk will all serve four years instead of the current two-year terms. Since the 1870s, New Haven mayors have served two-year terms.
During the charter revision process, the Charter Revision Commission — which consisted of alders and other people recommended by Mayor Justin Elicker and the Board of Alders — called for the change after Elicker’s administration recommended shifting to the four-year term.
Elicker, former 10-term Mayor John DeStefano, and the city’s leading union UNITE-HERE all advocated for the change, saying that the four-year term would make it easier for the alders and mayor to execute longer-term plans for the city.
DeStefano published a column in the New Haven Independent calling for the change, arguing that the change would allow politicians to spend less time campaigning and more time governing.
Elicker’s campaign is now under investigation for violating the city’s public financing rules because some of the campaign ads and mailers he sent out also called on residents to approve the charter. New Haven’s Democracy Fund voted to postpone action on the potential violations until after Election Day.
Pay bumps for New Haven alders
Currently, alders work part-time and receive $2,000 stipends per year during their terms. Under the new charter, alders will receive $5,000 stipends with cost-of-living adjustments going forward.
Stamford votes against bumps to legislative council powers
Simmons and the city’s Board of Representatives have been at odds for more than a year over appointments to city boards with planning and zoning authority that determine what can be built where in Stamford. The legislative council has rejected one of Simmons’ nominees for the zoning commission and is holding the nomination of another person as well.
Simmons says that the Board of Representatives opposes improvement to the city while members of the board — including Majority Leader Nina Sherwood, who led the ‘yes’ vote on the charter revision — say that neighborhoods deserve a larger voice in zoning decisions.
If the charter had passed, the president of the Board of Representatives would have been able to nominate members to city commissions if the mayor either failed to nominate someone within 120 days of a vacancy or a term expiring or if the Board of Representatives voted against the nominee. If neither the president nor the mayor had made a nomination, then members of the Board of Representatives could have also made nominations.
Currently, a member continues serving on a commission until their successor is confirmed. Multiple members of the zoning commission are serving on expired terms, including one person whose reappointment was voted down by the Board of Representatives. Sherwood argues that shifting appointment powers to the Board of Representatives would allow for more transparency and accountability in the process.
The charter would also have created a residency requirement for many of the city’s top officials and would have granted the Board of Representatives an easier path to consult outside counsel on matters.