Hello friends and neighbors!
It has been a busy couple of years with the Charter Revision work — I certainly didn’t expect the work to be this intensive when I accepted the role as Co-Chair of the Charter Revision Committee of the Board of Representatives.
Literally thousands of volunteer hours were put into these efforts by dozens of people on various boards, commissions, and the general public. I am certainly proud of the collective work done, yet quite sad it has all become so contentious and divisive.
The revisions proposed are actually quite sensical, and certainly are not the ‘end of Stamford.’ If passed, they represent a new era of government accountability and transparency.
If this were any other Board of Representatives or any other Administration, this would be a non-issue. But, the matter has been politicized to the max.
I’m not part of the dueling factions in the Democrat Party (Establishment/Progressive vs Reform/Conservative) but I tend to vote with the conservative faction, as you may know. I’m summarizing it in this way because I know that many of you are also in the center or right of center.
The Charter revisions call for more accountability, transparency, and participation in our government. They are conservative measures that are intended to be the checks and balances to those more progressive value systems, which in Stamford are - BUILD - TAX - SPEND - with little input or awareness from you, the electorate.
Additionally, I think it is enormously important to correct the falsehoods being communicated around the City: The revisions will absolutely not ‘halt the building of our schools.’ This is simply ludicrous. The revisions will not put a total stop to development, or stop affordable housing. No one in the government on any side of the issue wants this. The revisions will not cost you $700 in added taxes (this number was totally made up). In fact, more accountability and more transparency should actually make your tax dollars go further with a more efficient and effective government.
Here’s why the revisions make a lot of common sense: New Commissions around affordable housing, mental health, DEI, and ADA are desperately needed. They aren’t ‘more bureaucracy’ as they’ve been labeled. They will be run by volunteers for the good of people in this City that need additional support systems.
People with the most important votes on our Planning and Zoning Boards shouldn’t be indefinitely on those Boards, without accountability. That's simply not good governance. I’ll address more about this later.
The Board of Reps having easier access to an independent lawyer is not a big ‘power grab.’ Most legislative bodies have their own lawyers for a reason - naturally because making legislation is very law-intensive. Plus, it is occasionally and naturally the case that our legislative and administrative bodies may have conflict.
Restructuring how our City finances are organized so there is more reporting available to the public is the right thing to do. Our own City is currently alarmingly delayed with its own audit. Furthermore, the conversation that is happening now -- everywhere in the City -- about Charter revision is exactly why 2023 was the right choice. Otherwise, we’d be slammed with Trump vs Biden divisiveness.
Everyone has the opportunity and freedom to vote in this election.
If the additional turnout is during the presidential election, logically it means that those voters are more interested in federal vs local politics (which is totally fine and their choice). November 7th is a municipal election with quite a few people on the ballot -- Board of Ed, Board of Finance, and Board of Reps all have races.
The issue about one ballot question has also come up. One question on the ballot is how New Haven and Norwalk are doing it this year, as have many other major cities in CT in the past. The point is to make it easier for the general public to digest and to convey the theme of the revisions. In Stamford’s case, they are all about accountability, transparency, and more participation in government.
This was the recommendation by our lawyer who has done more than 25 revisions around the state for the last 30 years. This is a lawyer who is the most respected person on charter revisions in Connecticut and has a reputation to uphold.
Separately - for the record - I’m certainly not anti-housing, anti-development, and I’m definitely not anti-affordable housing. But, I do believe how and how fast we are developing Stamford should be more closely looked at. Over the last ten years of hyper development, our City’s operating budget has ballooned by 30%. Even with a growing grand list, your taxes are rising tremendously. You are being taxed on assets which are not liquid (your car, your home) - while you are getting the same (or less) services. All to support those that are financially benefiting from development and taking our City’s attention away from other important issues (ie, failing community centers).
Meanwhile, luxury apartment buildings don’t help those in the lower socio-economic classes. The number one asset for people to build wealth for their families is to purchase real estate. But, as a result of the hyper development, single-family property taxes and prices are rising to the point that they are pricing new families out of the market. More luxury apartments are widening the wealth gap, not closing it.
I could go on. But I’ll end my thoughts with this -- With all of this happening, and our City growing, we simply need more of an ‘all hands on deck’ policy. Not a policy where a tiny handful of people decide the fate of development in all Stamford. And that is exactly what is happening right now. Several members of the Planning Board and Zoning Board are serving well beyond their term end-dates. And some have even been rejected by the BOR when put up for nomination, taking advantage of the loopholes allowed in the current Charter — meaning that people with little to no accountability are making some of our city’s most critical decisions.
Our Administration feels that it is appropriate to go to Hartford and sneak snippets of language into bonding bills without telling anyone that they are doing this or having any type of open public discussion about it. These Charter revisions create the checks & balances we all need to have a successful government, they certainly don’t hinder them. If you’d like to chat more about the specifics of the revisions, I’m happy to do so. Click here to send me an email.
Between now and November 7th, I urge you to: Review the overall redlined changes:
Read the explanatory text:
Learn about other positive outcomes of the revisions:
Learn about the diverse Charter Revision Commission:
Educate yourself on the ballot question with explanations directly from the Commission:
Mr. Bewkes currently serves as a Representative, District 1 Chair, Land Use Committee Co-Chair, Charter Revision Committee Member, Steering, Appointments and Parks and Recreation Committees Deputy Minority Leader Parliamentarian in Stamford.