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.
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