Under our new form of government, the New London City Council has inappropriately taken a backseat in following any vision, developing policy or insuring enforcement of the City Charter or ordinances. This failure has been aggravated by the mayor's lack of leadership. Three areas that require greater council attention are the police department, City Charter, and Fort Trumbull.
Our Police Department is in chaos. We must restore the Police Department to its first class-status of just two years ago. Current police manning has been allowed to atrophy from approximately 95 officers to the current manning of only 65 officers. This has been done with no professional evaluation to the needs of New London, but has been caused by poor leadership and low morale.
Chief Ackley needs to retire, allowing new strong leadership to start the rectification. The mayor needs to permit the new police chief to do his job without undo interference. Immediate efforts need to be made to rebuild the department manning. An evaluation by police professionals needs to identify the optimum manning of our force; and the City Council needs to fund that staffing and insist that the mayor moves in a timely manor to achieve that staffing goal.
The mayor needs to understand that his top priority is public safety; and that the budget is a means to fund his priorities. There needs to be some real planning and visibility to what the mayor's priorities are.
The most pressing need is to amend the Charter to permit a mayoral veto override by 5 out of 7 councilors instead of the current requirement of 6 of 7 councilors. The current requirement is extremely restrictive and could prevent the correction of mistakes and misjudgments by the mayor. The overwhelming consensus of the council is well reflected by 5 of 7 councilors.
The council is charged with approving and maintaining the city's budget. The mayor is responsible for administering the city's operations and remaining within the approved budget. The Finance Department is responsible for facilitating these functions. Currently the Finance Department works at the direction of the mayor and is insulated from the council by this reporting relationship. As a result the Finance Department is not in a good position to assist the council in overseeing the proper development and maintenance of the budget.
The current relationship places the fox in the chicken coop. A more effective and prudent arrangement would have the Finance Department work directly for the City Council. This would still permit the mayor to be responsible and manage the operations of the city, but would also permit the finance director and the City Council to more effectively insure budget transparency and compliance.
There are many other areas requiring charter updating that have been lessons learned over the past two years. The budget referendum process badly needs updating, and the relationship between the city attorney and the council needs to be strengthened.
Every campaign season brings new cries for Fort Trumbull development progress, yet after each election this issue goes silent. The city has left the New London Development Corporation, now the Renaissance City Development Association, to pursue development goals with very little input or oversight. An elephant-in-the-room like Fort Trumbull development should be front and center with the mayor and the council. There should be at least monthly progress discussions at City Council meetings given by the mayor or the Renaissance City Development Association. Goals should be made and scheduled, and reported upon, such as action to place the property under city control and ownership.
The thought of giving away land for development, and providing tax abatements to developers, challenges common sense. If a developer's business plan will not support the project without these gifts, then it is not a robust project and will likely fail in any case.
In conclusion, the City Charter did not take away the council's ability or responsibility to pursue goals and improvements to the city, and the council should not depend exclusively on the mayor for initiatives. The Republican candidates have a vision, a plan and an agenda to help the mayor take the city to a better place.
This commentary was submitted by council candidate Bill Vogel on behalf of the Republican slate for New London City Council. Vogel is also town committee chairman.