Charter Commission Meeting 4-12-17

Charter Commission Meeting

April 12, 2017

Attending: Josh Krintzman (Chair), Rhanna Kidwell (Vice-Chair), Bryan Barash, Jane Frantz, Howard Haywood, Anne Larner, Brooke Lipsitt, Karen Manning, Chris Steele

Approval of Minutes (March 29th):  Approved unanimously.

Public Comment:

Jennifer Huntington:  Thanks to Charter Commission for their hard work and active listening.  Voting yes for a new charter:  smaller city council will increase accountability and efficiency.  Believe in term limits—increase interest in running for office.

Nancy Tenor:  Thanks for all your hard work.  Section of proposal that will hurt Newton is the one that removes local ward representation from the City Council.  Intrigued by idea of villages—varied and distinct.  Most of her neighbors are against removing local representation—people know their representative and are worried that they will lose that connection.  Candidates will also not be able to hear the issues that concern their constituencies—opportunities will be rare to have small events.  Only those with high disposable incomes will be able to afford to run—proposal limits representation and weakens democracy.  Many at the state level started at the local level—we should be encouraging this.  When candidates have to cover the whole city they will not be able to understand the local concerns.

Kathleen Hobson:  about process: she needs to vote on a charter that is a result of a process that she can count on and be proud of.  Up until March 29th, it was just that.  Then, all of a sudden, the process broke down and moved to a track motivated by fear about the passage of the proposal.  Can’t just hand off creating districts to the Election Commission—not enough time to do a proper job.  Can go back to the model that they reaffirmed 3 times very strongly and that she was proud of.  It would be hard to sell the new version.

Jack Pryor:  Thanks for your service.  Read info on all 56 communities that use city councils in MA.  Newton is an outlier with 24, proposal is an outlier as well.  84% use ward-elected representative of what they do.  14% are at large.  As you get smaller, get more direct representation.  Vast majority are mostly ward-elected when there are both.  Newton with 9 other communities that are all elected at-large.  Only 2.6% of communities in MA are 100% at-large.  Nationwide, some are challenged due to civil rights.

Sallee Lipshutz:  Thanks for all your hard work.  Housekeeping—maps of districts are difficult to discern various districts.  Secondly, would like her letter sent this week to be on the record.  The conclusion is that they still have time to have 8 at-large and 8 ward councilors—voters would breathe a sigh of relief and it would pass with a high acceptance rate.

Lois Levin:  listened to some of tapes of meetings that she missed, including the last one.  Sudden revision of unanimous decisions.  Issues with the recording.  Document from Anne makes clear that the decision requires a lot of work—can’t just snap your fingers.  Implementing wouldn’t be abrupt, though the change was.  Doesn’t understand how the ward alderman represents people better than others.  Most are responsive and receptive—calls city for potholes, but if there is an issue wants to talk to someone who is responsive.  Doesn’t matter if they live 2 blocks from her or 20 blocks.  Notion that a neighbor represents you better is irrational.  Does not understand why abruptly reconsidered all the hard work they did; chaotic reaction to it.  One of the most important things is to reduce the size of the Board, but getting rid of ward aldermen was a piece of it.  Doesn’t need ward aldermen to feel represented—is a unified city with common goals.

Deb Crossley:  favor the city charter—spoke a couple of times.  Terrific work that they did.  Surprised by 5-4 vote that represents a change of mind.  Not an inherent difference in responsiveness between ward and at-large councilors—it is the person who determines that.  Will vote for the charter anyway since it reduces the size of the council—help to focus their energies, work better together (very difficult for large council to pay as good attention to each issue and be ready to vote in a timely fashion).  If really believed as they did a number of weeks ago, then that is what should put forward.  Put forward the best model for the city.  However if honestly believe that district model is the best, need to double the meetings between now and the end to draw boundaries—too much incentive for shenanigans.  Not meaning anything derogatory, but tension that happens about whether or not will be included in the next elections.  Not appropriate for the Election Commission to do this.

Draft of New Charter: 

BB:  document to help kick off discussion about how to look at districts.  Look at advantages of district model v. the other model.  Advantages of district model—head-to-head races, 100% geographic diversity, majority rule, every race 50+1%.  Pool:  More potential candidates to choose from, no head-to-head races for those who aren’t willing to run against neighbor, no geographic limitations, allow minority voices (possibly less than 50%).

If going to go to districts, need to figure out how to write that into the charter.  Aspects to decide:

Who is going to decide what districts are?  In the charter (permanently), temporarily in a transition document, or delegate to city council or election commission.  Point raised in memos and by consultants that Election Commission might not be the appropriate body and possibly City Council would have an up-or-down vote on it.

BB:  King Solomon question—limited time frame to finish this process.  Really going to have to deal with asking people to vote on charter without knowing exactly how council would be elected.  Should politics be a consideration?  City Council does have control over redistricting process; had thought to give this to the Election Commission.  Strong value to independent redistricting—large topic to take on in time we have left.  Consultants said that districts and ward should probably be drawn by the same body.  Districts in other communities—examples of all ways that can be drawn.  Not breaking new ground, but there are options to consider.

AL:  struggle with districts in Newton are for a different purpose in other districts.  They are for voting purposes for representative—ours is to ensure that councilors are geographically dispersed and not concentrated in one neighborhood (as opposed to one person, one vote.)  Do they tend to disperse more or is there a concentration?  Now eight wards—natural way to scatter; when have 4—come together at one point.  Will there be concentrations in one place.  Introduced idea of Election Commission at last meeting—was trying to think creatively because facing a deadline—however, having conversations with law department and doing research—thought about how an Election Commission is built, who peoples it, and what its purpose is—districts are meant to be non-partisan, so why have Dems and Reps deciding it?  Would like to see a reconsideration of putting this to the Election Commission.  Is it best to put aside and discuss or have a vote on it first?

JK:  look at districts, came up with three options; would be comprised of two contiguous wards, tried to even voting numbers, not bizarrely shaped; agree that put in something in transition section about what the districts would be.

BB:  most charters that do a preliminary district, typically say that this will be the starting point for the first election, and then a chance to change them.

JF:  question on 2020 Census—when would have the info for ward redistricting?  [Discussion that led to conclusion for 2021 election.  Would this be for one election?  Who then makes the decision?]

BB:  feels like having temporary model leaves a safety valve.  Seems like district is a model going forward—if the districts need to be changed, create another way to do it besides changing the charter.

JK:  need to discuss is creating temporary or permanent districts.

BL:  seems that there is no logical option to making a temporary assignment so that people can understand in more than words what this means.  Have the obligation to try to make that clear in transition section.  Challenge is not do we put in temporary districts, but do we assign the wards to districts in the body of the charter or make a temporary assignment with instructions that need to be revisited after every census?  If felt that could get the delineation correctly, then put in the charter.  Potential for political mischief by redrawing the district lines every 10 years—in reality only happens if not working.  Who gets the job?  Not as disturbed by composition of Election Commission—they are relatively independent.  But is the question about whether the EC can even take that, or if required to have the City Council draw ward/council lines.

Collins Center:  if take the premise that all elections are province of the state, and precinct is building block for all ward/districts, always Marilyn’s understanding that the clerk brought a proposal to the council based on the census.  In Newton, the council does some of it.

BL:  don’t think it matters who makes the proposal—decision is made by City Council.

Collins Center:  have different option—could create a commission to examine the issue of how to create districts and determine its membership—for the initial election.

BL:  after initial time, is there a requirement for City Council to do this?  Can we override it?

CC:  NO—election law is state law and it is uniform.  Can’t override in charter.

BL:  therefore doesn’t matter who makes recommendation—vote ultimately has to be taken by city council.

AL:  pretty sure that Ouida said that Cambridge had used a home-rule petition to have someone besides City Council set the district lines.

BB:  home-rule is a way to ask the state to override state law.  Complexity of doing this—independent redistricting is a much larger process, not in the next three weeks.

AL:  in her opinion, seems sensible to her to proceed with Charter Commission drawing first districts in charter—don’t do it unless have general public hearing and time for feedback on this.  Then would take the easy route and put any further responsibility past the first election with the City Council, and think about putting in parameters.  City Council has had issues in past with extending courtesies—must better to have body that is elected by them with public hearings that people attend.  Election Commission sits in a small room, has a hard time to pass minutes, doesn’t always take audio of meetings, etc.—doesn’t have gravitas that the council has.  Is a big issue to people—if go this route, have to do it so that support the ability of the public to see the sausage being made, to comment on it and to find records of meeting.

KM:  Agree with Anne, especially about public hearing.  Feels that significantly downplayed—not a minor change, is something the city hasn’t seen before.  If info sits out there for a week or two, how know that getting all the feedback.  Have had info out there for 1.5 years…doesn’t think a hearing in this short term is responsible or enough—better than nothing.

HH:  hears that we should go to districts but doesn’t know how.  Have council members that say should not be in the hands of the council; EC is not qualified or can do it legally—selected based on political party.  Haven’t had a public hearing on this topic—haven’t heard anything that there is overwhelming support for districts.  Sees still support for keeping ward aldermen.  No argument for why go to districts.  Arguments for districts do not apply to Newton.  What are we trying to do here.

JF:  supported this idea for months—begun to heard from many people outside the meeting that they were uncomfortable with model that CC had come up with.  Last 3-4 months, more and more people were approaching her that the at-large pool was problematic.  Head-to-head races, concentration in one part of the city.  Many people approached her recently and said that they were relieved.

KM:  in the abstract, understand that JF prefer the proposal.  Truth is only 3% supported it.  Would they support it if they knew the roadblocks—EC or City Council?  How divide up districts?  No perfect composition—so many models.  Precedent is important—if so many MA communities support at-large pools, it must work.  Research did not turn up any alarm or reservations by those that CC spoke to. Abstract v. reality is different.

CS:  like Jane, was interested in district model, especially head-to-head races.  Concept of trying to do something in a rush—has broken things that way.  Feels like going down that road.  Have to be able to establish districts as least for the first round—don’t have time.  Don’t have enough dialogue or time for enough dialogue to figure out who will draw districts in the future.  Also drawn people through long process so far, but in past 14 days made a significant fundamental change—would have preferred to have come to this earlier.  But not so opposed to concept of pool that to go in the district direction is better than having had the process so far.

BL:  always been iconoclasts in Newton—size of city council, use of area councils, etc.  Chris raises central question—she likes districts—reviewed arguments and read everything—as talked to people, am more and more comfortable with district model.  Issue about whether we are in a position to make rational and supportable decisions about first iteration of districts.  If CC wanted to, is there enough time in 3 weeks to have a public hearing and to then have enough time to deliberate on what hear that day/evening and finish the report.  If answer is no, then made the decision.  Wouldn’t mind meeting on weekend or several nights in a row.  Is this feasible?

BB:  hear concerns and agree that will have to schedule significant time to take this on.  Going into a holiday weekend, then school vacation, so sets back public hearing as a start.  Limiting factor, could make time to do it, but would have to happen in 1.5-2 weeks.

JF:  short-term questions, and talking a charter than would at least last 50 years.  Willing to put in the work.  Focus on making the right decision.

[Discussion on deadline—May 4th was the agreed upon date.]

HH:  every time CC meets, people get up and talk about the process—thanks for working so hard, for being so transparent, and how consistent.  Up until 2 weeks ago—can’t say that wasn’t a change.  It was a significant change—put the citizens in that rush mode.  HH thinks this is unfair—can public handle that many more meetings because CC broke from regular process and added a complicated issue without giving due process.  Public had to wait until 10:30 at night to make comments.  How long has it taken to do lesser things?  Can’t get this done.

BB:  hear the argument that is a break from regular process—this is the end of the process.  Supposed to reflect on preliminary repot—process set out by state law.  Unfortunately, time line is compressed, but are following process.

JF:  agree with Bryan.  Had a public hearing, responded to it.  Got input from all around—don’t have consensus on any one issue.

KM:  need to go by email receive and comments we hear—only thing we have in common.  Have no idea of context of private conversations—not solid data.  Gotten concrete feedback that the district model doesn’t satisfy those unhappy with original proposal.  Timeline—important.  Just because some influential people support the district model, they don’t understand all that is involved and haven’t done the research.

BL:  hear what Karen says, sees Rhanna’s data. Are representatives—don’t need to count comments, etc.  Know that the total number of people who have heard from are a small fraction of the voters.  Up to CC to put together to the best of their judgement.  This is the first time there is serious tension among members of the commission.  Wants to put the question again about time…are they willing to join Brooke and sit down and have a public hearing?  Fact that is vacation week—doesn’t affect many people who have been here.

AL:  with Brooke in spirit, but there is a practical consideration.  Would not want to have a vote that wouldn’t have all of us there.  Have to be respectful of each other who might not be available.

RK: (asks people with kids in public schools to raise hands) Feel uncomfortable to do anything during school vacation week.  Didn’t count comments to put finger in the air—was about the idea about the feedback that have gotten—if going to talk about responding, need to agree to what it is.  Haven’t been privy to communication about district model.

BB:  agree about school vacation; is it reasonable to expect public to go to so many meetings in a row if want to follow process.  Fact that willing to address some of the concerns without giving exactly the model some want does not mean that not responding to feedback.

JK:  need to decide who decides districts (if keep with districts).  Felt that the district model wasn’t that radical—taking model that we like (at-large with residency requirements) and apply it to the remaining 4 councilors.  Felt it was a minor tweak—since this is the way it’s been done.

Sense of body about whether continue with districts—question by AL about process moving forward: if continue with districts, have public hearing and then schedule more meetings.  HH—need to figure out details first—see what look like and then vote.  JK:  city council draw districts, CC draw initial ones for first election.  HH:  how do we know that the CC should draw the districts?  Should draw out the whole program and then vote…need to know where going before decide.  Disagree on how got to this place without process during last meeting.

Yes to district model (Franz, Barash, Lipsitt, Krintzman)

BB:  vote should be whether to proceed regardless of preference.

RK:  let’s finish the discussion about proceed.  Do we have the time to finish this discussion.  Don’t think should meet on weekends—asking too much of public.  Counts seven days without weekends and school vacation before proposal is due.  Need vetted proposal, straw vote, public hearing, then vote and finalize the report.  Short amount of time.

JF:  go back to point that making a charter that will last for 50 years.

RK:  because will last for 50 years, would like to be responsible and make sure it won’t blow up on them.  Have had to walk back things when realized won’t work—now don’t have time.

JK:  will find space every week of April 24th.  Need a motion on whether to go forward.

BL:  schedule meetings during week of April 24th to give this proposal a full hearing.

Motion:  continue vetting district model and meet as many times as it takes the week of April 24th including scheduling public hearing.

[Discussion:  was this a straw vote?]

KM: would have been helpful for people to have the info they have now on district model.  About public hearing—realize how much work it takes to get together a transcript of a hearing?  Karen does it—it’s political, people are reading those minutes.  They can take 7-10 days, especially if there is a job or family involved.  Will take a while, then maybe 3-4 days or a week to review them, respond, think about it.  Not responsible.

BL:  thanks to Karen for accurately recording all this material—overwhelmed with the work that they do.  Doesn’t disagree with Howard about the vote last time.  But they are having a discussion now.  Not afraid to move forward with deliberation.  Are they willing and able to do the work?  Written record is extremely important—especially when the public makes its decision.

AL:  agree that need to move forward.  Do need to acknowledge who thought the vote was a final vote—need to deal with this perception.  If have some tight meetings, need outside help—no fair to have Karen do it.

RK:  BL made a comment that shouldn’t stop arbitrarily—feel that this was started arbitrarily.  People have heard some comments, but no consensus on model or on time left.  Not a legislative body—simple majority is not a win.  What matter is is they have the time to do this responsibly and if can get a consensus around this model.

JF:  point out number of times visited term limits, three (sic) meetings on area councils, extreme amount of time on other things.  If not have consensus on district model, don’t have it on at-large model.  Mistake to assume that if one model is defeated, then the other would be OK.  That vote no longer exists.  Regrets didn’t examine other models.  No matter what, will have a split vote.

HH:  recall vote was 7-2 in favor of the at-large model. Doesn’t sound very split.  Talking about whether we go forward—got away from process that has hurt them within the group and with the public.  Is this motion another straw vote? Got opinions from City Clerk and Law Office—haven’t addressed their comments on how complicated they are.  So we’re saying we don’t need their opinion and that we should just go ahead.

JK:  read the memos and if there are two ward together, it will be fine.

JF:  hold Ouida in the highest regard.  Gets three paragraph answers when expected only 1 line—may give information that is not necessary because she is careful.

[JK asks David Olson if he has anything else to add.]

RK:  two models with no consensus.  Then go forward with the model that is complete and has been vetted—not try to rush around with something that is very complete and political.  Could lose support from people—not reason not to proceed if this is something that believe in.  Uncomfortable with the rush.

AL:  feels torn.  Has been on both winning and losing sides—has been her policy to graciously lose when lose and work with the majority opinion.  Not sure whether it is possible to move forward isn’t clear yet.  Not clear how much time other pieces are going to take—is it helpful to vote yes and possible waste time.  It’s a real dilemna.  Very much want a package that is sellable to the community that reduces the size of the council and has a composition that makes some sense.  One on the table now is no her first choice, but the issue now is if can do a good job for all the other pieces.  Would like to have a better sense of what is left.

VOTE on motion:  5-4 Failed.

New motion:  (BL)  move that revert to previous preliminary draft

Discussion:

BB:  obvious that people feel uncomfortable going forward with last vote.

JF:  hope that includes respecting a no vote.

VOTE  8-1.  Revert to at-large pool and the district drawn body.

Prohibition on holding compensated officer for 1-year post:

Marilyn spoke with AG’s office about what needs to be changed.  Need to add something about when this is available—at conclusion of service.

BL:  motion in Section 2-4a: “service” is better than term.  Insert “within one year of service.” Instead of “at one year of service.”  Motion APPROVED.

[Discussion about whether this is for the same position or a new position.]

City Employees on Boards and Commissions:

BB:  voted to make a change…doesn’t recall an additional change needed.

School Building Review Committee: 

AL:  recommend in Section 4-4, delete the second sentence “upon written communications…” Multilayers of committees depending on circumstances—working with Ouida, felt it was best to keep it simple.  Try to make sure that whenever a school building program comes up (either fully self-financed or with MSBA) there will always be a voting place for a SC member on the committee dealing with that.  Easiest way is to add to section 11-7 to make sure that Design Review Committee will have a voting slot for a SC member.

Special Elections Blackout:  hold for next time

Recall Election: 

BB:  debated months ago, no conclusion and decided to leave it out.  Discussion occurred before the most recent presidential election—might change some people’s opinion in light of personal conflicts, etc.  Letter of the law might not be enough to capture behavior that might lead to a recall.  Is there a willingness to talk about a recall again?  No need to significantly deviate from available language.  Lots of kinds of conflicts that might lead to questioning of person in office.

RK:  have been national stories of that nature—supported this when brought up before.  The bar is set so high in terms of signatures—couldn’t be done frivolously.  Very ugly chapter if ever had to recall Mayor, but would result from ugliness that would be there and would be a national news story—is a nice safeguard that would hopefully never be used.

JF:  turmoil from some situations even if they don’t lead to recall.

Motion (BB):  include recall provision.

BL:  offer a friendly amendment that discuss recall provision for the Mayor.  Terms for SC and CC are so brief that recalling someone and hold a special election is terrifying.  BB—accepted.

VOTE:  6-2-1.  Motion PASSED.

Further articulate proposal?  BL:  came up with language with the Collins Center to come up with language.

Multiple Member Body Quorum: 

Marilyn:  Section 11-12d.  issue is that “unless otherwise required by law” should be moved after “multiple member body.”

Ouida raised two concerns about Article 3-10: 

  1. Scheduling a special election at the next city council meeting.  Suggestion that it be introduced in recognition of the City Council process. Can’t deliberate and vote on same date.
  2. Special election in summer—want exception that instead of July or August, could be held at a late time.

BL:  about #2, could change to ‘earliest practical date’ to avoid slippage.  Personally doesn’t worry about having an election over the summer.  Was a concern when Mayor Mann died. Can be modified the setting of the date, but intent should be clear that it should be the earliest possible time.

BB:  Blackout dates should be a “may” instead of a “shall.”

KM:  wants to take a little more time, but will go with the flow.  Would prefer to have time to ask questions.

Final Report: some changes, can use preliminary report.  Hold week of April 24th to schedule another meeting. Are scheduled for Wednesday, April 26th.

AL:  did research this week on registered voters by party.  There are 30 parties that people can register for…one that three registered voters in Newton called the Pizza Party.

Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop.

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