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Charter revision finds backing on Norwich council

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published October 04. 2013 4:00AM

Norwich - What was shaping up to be a top campaign issue could be settled by the current City Council prior to the Nov. 5 election.

Mayor Peter Nystrom placed a resolution on Monday's council agenda to establish a charter revision commission. The resolution would need a two-thirds majority vote, and most aldermen reached Thursday said they are considering supporting it.

Only Democratic Alderman H. Tucker Braddock, who is not seeking re-election, said he would vote against it. Braddock said the issue should be left to the new incoming council and mayor.

"Why did it come up now?" Braddock said. "I don't think we should burden the new council with it. I think it's an untimely resolution and I don't think it's the right time to do it."

Nystrom, who is running for re-election, said residents are talking about charter revision, so this is a good time to start the process. He compared reviewing the charter to the state-mandated update of the city's Plan of Conservation and Development, which must be done every 10 years.

The charter was last changed in 2001, when the current seven-member council-mayor structure with the city manager form of government was approved.

Nystrom's resolution calls for the council to appoint seven members to the commission within 30 days of approving creation of the commission, but left blank the date when the commission would report its recommendations and also does not list specific issues the commission should address.

A charter revision commission would have the authority to address any aspect of the charter, but the City Council can dictate specific issues as well.

Nystrom said he's not ready to back a strong mayor form of government but would consider giving the mayor veto power and perhaps other authority.

Other aldermen offered differing views on what issues they would like to see addressed.

Democratic mayoral candidate Deberey Hinchey, who has not supported charter revision, said Thursday she would listen to comments by the public and fellow council members before deciding.

"If I prevailed in the mayor's race, I would do things differently according to what the mayor has authority to do," Hinchey said. "I don't have a problem with the charter as is. I think we have a charter that works if it's followed."

Democratic Alderman Mark Bettencourt said several aspects of the charter merit discussion, including the mayoral position and the city's unusual structure that makes the City Council serve as the city zoning board.

Bettencourt said archaic structures in the charter should be addressed, such as the combined parks and cemeteries division and the independent parking commission.

"There's a plethora of pieces that should be discussed," Bettencourt said. "I certainly would want a comprehensive review."

Alderman Charles Jaskiewicz, who lost to Hinchey in the September mayoral primary, said he would support a separate zoning board, with members having experience in zoning matters.

Residents in recent years have raised the issue of wanting a budget referendum provision. Jaskiewicz said he would only support that if it required a minimum 33 percent voter turnout.

Alderman Francois "Pete" Desaulniers said he tried unsuccessfully to form a charter revision commission four years ago.

Desaulniers doesn't support a strong mayor or a separate zoning board but wants the charter to make the mayor a full-time position.

He also said the council stipend, which has remained $100 per month for decades, should be increased.

"I think that should be looked at," Desaulniers said. "We do spend a lot of money doing what we do."

c.bessette@theday.com

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