Sunday, April 24, 2022

Contemplating Charter Change

At the informal Common Council meeting on April 11, when the resolution to adopt the City's organizational chart was introduced, Councilmember Vicky Daskaloudi (Fifth Ward) expressed the opinion that a city of fewer than 6,000 residents did not need ten people to represent them on the Common Council. Once again last week, at the regular monthly meeting of the Common Council, she took up the issue of restructuring government, suggesting that there be a referendum with this year's midterm election to reduce the number of Council members from two for each ward to one.

Responding to Daskaloudi's statement, Council president Tom DePietro said he wanted a task force to come up with a proposal for charter change that would include more than just a reduction in the number of councilmembers. Crystal Peck, counsel to the Council, advised that a charter commission would be needed. "What you will want to do," she told the Council, "is have a broader look" rather than making piecemeal changes.

Charter change is not a new idea. It's been talked about for more than a decade. Back in 2011, Victor Mendolia, who then chaired the Hudson City Democratic Committee, submitted a proposal to the Common Council Legal Committee to create a Charter Revision Commission. The stated goal of the commission was to "optimize efficiency, foster fair and equal representation, and seek the best possible model for responsible government." The proposal cited seven specific issues to be considered:
  • increasing the mayoral term to four years
  • redrawing election districts to create districts of equal population
  • having the City Treasurer appointed by the Common Council rather than elected
  • requiring mayoral appointments to be confirmed by the Common Council
  • reducing the number of supervisors representing Hudson in county government
  • eliminating the positions of commissioners
  • adjusting the salaries and/or benefits of elected officials
A Charter Revision Commission was never created in 2011, but at least one of the issues identified in 2011 was addressed. In 2016, Fair & Equal, a grassroots effort organized by citizens, forced a referendum that succeeded in eliminating the weighted vote and redrawing the ward boundaries to create wards of equal population. Since 2011, too, the salaries of elected officials have increased--most recently, the mayor's salary was increased from $60,000 to $75,000 a year. 

There have also been attempts to increase the mayor's term of office. In October 2019, Mayor Rick Rector proposed a local law that would increase the terms of the mayor, Common Council president, and treasurer from two years to four years. Before the Council voted on the proposed law, Tiffany Garriga, than a councilmember representing the Second Ward, insisted that it be amended to include councilmembers and supervisors. The law was defeated. Several of the councilmembers who voted against it stated they did so because they thought extending the term of office was appropriate for the mayor and the treasurer but not for members of the Common Council. In February 2020, Mayor Kamal Johnson, who had at that point in been office for only about forty days, proposed a local law that would increase the term of office for the mayor, and only the mayor, from two years to four years. Although the proposed law was introduced to the full Council on February 18, 2020, Council minutes do not reveal what happened to it. Gossips could find no record that it was ever voted on, and it was never enacted.

If, in fact, a task force or charter commission is appointed to consider charges to the city charter, extending the terms for some if not all elected officials will no doubt be among the changes proposed, along with reducing the number of councilmembers. Restructuring city government probably shouldn't stop there though. The time may have come to do away with the commissioners, eliminate the office of mayor or reduce it to a part-time, ceremonial position, and hire a city manager with training and expertise in city planning to be the chief executive officer of the city and oversee its operations.


  1. Yes, the charter (and the Code!) needs a 21st Century update and a city manager replacing the mayor needs to happen SOON. But where in the long list of things the council has on their plates will this go? At the end, only to be revisited (rerevisted?) in two or four years when a new council and mayor arrive? It's difficult to change the system from within, especially if it's a poorly functioning one. B Huston

  2. I agree - there are too many people involved in city government - it has become a Tower of Babel.

  3. When was the last time anyone heard from the police commissioner or when he last showed up to an informal council meeting where the other commissioners can be seen and, occasionally, heard from? That position, Commissioner of Police, is mentioned FAR MORE often than Chief of Police in the city Code and appears to hold more power and responsibility than the HPD Chief, at least on paper. Yet what's-his-name is nowhere to be found. Apparently the HPD commissioner has become, at best, a nominal position. In other words, USELESS AND UNHELPFUL.

  4. Daskaloudi is absolutely correct that the number of Council reps should be cut in half. Speaking as someone who has both observed and participated in candidate recruitment for the Democratic committee, it is a perennial problem finding qualified candidates who can do the job well. Unqualified and often unscrupulous individuals can be placed into positions of power simply by petitioning for a seat and running unopposed, and the Democratic Committee is reportedly in such a shamble it could drive one to tears. There is also significant financial cost to the taxpayers to pay and provide benefits for so many legislators who do so little. I would add that finding someone with the right experience and qualification to run the City would be much easier under a city manager model, which widens the field of potential candidates while also setting some basic professional qualifications that are sorely lacking in City Hall right now.

    A Council-appointed task force, especially one stacked with appointees from DePietro or Johnson, isn’t the right solution for this issue. As the last iteration of the Tourism Board showed, appointing the wrong people to the right job creates bungled solutions, and at any rate elected officials have a natural conflict and would be more likely to appoint people who would come to the conclusion that Hudson needs more Council members than less.

    The best and most obvious solution for charter reform is based on the Fair and Equal model, a charter initiative that was driven by citizens. The process, unlike the more technical Fair and Equal, should be fairly straightforward, and should address a few key problems- reducing the number of Council reps, replacing the mayor with a qualified City manager who can professionally manage municipal departments and navigate the complex needs of a small but growing city, and merging the existing mayor position with the Common Council president. The question of supervisors, as it addresses county government, is an important issue that might best be taken up by a separate referendum.

    There is still time to put forward a proposal for this year’s election, and I encourage Hudson residents who care about good government to put their heads together and tackle this problem head-on.