Letter: Charter Revision request is political
To the Editor:
For the second time in three years, the town is revising the Charter, which contains the rules by which the town is governed. The Town Council voted to form a commission to consider changing how the town funds its pensions. First Selectman Tim Herbst proposed the change, which would make it mandatory for the town to contribute to the pension funds at a required level each year.
It is true that the town has not funded its pensions at actuarially recommended levels, therefore creating significant liabilities. First Selectman Herbst told the Council that contributions in recent years have eased that situation, but that going forward it’s better to mandate contributions.
Mr. Herbst told the Council that his request is not political, and that the new Charter Revision Commission should keep its focus very narrow, targeted tightly on the pension issue. I disagree on both points.
The Herbst request is fundamentally political. Not only is the first selectman dismissing future leaders as capable of making good political decisions for the town — and tying their hands in the event of emergency — but he’s also shielding those politicians from making tough decisions and facing political consequences.
Mr. Herbst says pension funding has been moving in the right direction during the last few years. So there must be another reason for him wanting to change the Charter. There is. The first selectman is running for state treasurer. Modifying Trumbull's charter is political-it's a context within which Herbst seeks to have voters evaluate his candidacy for state treasurer. Changing the local Charter is, from Herbst's perspective, a political platform for the upcoming campaign.
On the other point, since we've opened the Charter, the focus should not be as narrow as the first selectman suggests. There are other areas to address. We should:
• Change the rules for special elections. Just this year, Tim Herbst went to court over a dispute in the rules for special elections. The town should simply change the language to clarify the time when petitions can be submitted and how vacancies in elected positions are made public.
• Provide for a town attorney dedicated to the Town Council. Now, town attorneys are hired by the first selectman and report to him. They serve at his pleasure. But the Town Council is a separate branch of government that needs its own legal counsel.
Both of these critical initiatives and perhaps others deserve the attention of the new Charter Revision Commission. And they're less political than Mr. Herbst's efforts to get attention in his race for treasurer.
A last note: Mr. Herbst claimed that such a Charter change has precedent in Norwalk. But a review of that city's Charter indicates that's not correct-at least not in the online text of that Charter.