Charter Commission Meeting
June 15, 2016
Attending: Josh Krintzman (Chair), Rhanna Kidwell (Vice-Chair), Bryan Barash, Jane Frantz, Brooke Lipsitt, Howard Haywood, Karen Manning, Anne Larner, Chris Steele
Approval of Minutes: Approved June 1st minutes, with one abstention. Approval of other notes are being held until a new clerk is officially hired.
Public Comment: None
Revisit Article 7-1: Establishes a department of planning and development: Members of CC weren’t comfortable with the language, so revisiting it. Proposed (with input from Collins Center) takes out the reference to state law Chapter 705, but leaves in ordinance reference. Main focus is on policy and process—even though not stated, this is the law unless repealed.
Discussion: no mission in there—but state law defines the objectives of the department. Maybe add a reference to statute so that people know there is more to find—this is the original change.
Article 7-2a: Does the chosen language limit the city in terms of a whole review of the comprehensive plan or allows flexibility to review parts of it? Consensus is that it doesn’t limit the city. Collins Center: doesn’t reflect flexibility. There is not a draft of this before everyone, so the CC will table this to another meeting.
Article 7-2b: Instead of “may” should be “shall” – refers to terms of the Mayor submitting the proposed comprehensive plan.
Will review entire draft of Article 7 in future and revisit these changes.
Need to explore consolidated finance department (but is not recommending it): all operations under the office of the Mayor, including Comptroller, who currently reports to City Council, Assessor and Treasurer, as well as budgeting.
Contacted a number of City Councilors, the Comptroller, CFO, and CAO. More recently, charters have had more emphasis on financial planning that we currently have. A number of charters get into detail, with dates to constrain and guide budget process. These are not in Newton’s Charter now.
New section: budget development: Mayor to annually prepare a 5-year report/forecast. Newton has done it for the past 50 years fairly regularly, but not every year. Not seen as a public record. Proposal to put it in the charter is consistent with good practice, based on guidance from Collins Center. Should there be a period of time where the forecast should be given to the City Council? 6 months—January 1st? More advance notice means less accuracy—state contributions are unclear/unknown, etc.
Also under discussion: Mayor confers with City Council and School Committee about guidance and direction. This might not be very helpful or meaningful—also issues with open meeting law. Mayor may prefer consultations but not want a meeting of the whole body which makes certain discussions public. No recommendation on this. Discussion: what value does this add, especially if use “may?” Doesn’t the Mayor need this info? How do you do a budget without this information?—Entirely possible with just information from department chairs—may not be passed, but can create a budget. Mayors should have opportunity to approach process their own way without being mandated by charter. No push by CC.
Also: do we want a series of dates—our charter has been very broad and flexible, though does need to conform to state law. Flexibility that different elected officials have has worked well in past 35 years. Adding dates is not recommended. CC agrees.
Article 5-1: no change
Article 5-2: add public hearing by Council before their final vote on the budget (recommended.) Council does not have power to add to the budget, so it could be frustrating to have people advocate for changes. However, it does give an opportunity for the public to be heard, and gives them a platform on changes. Increases public engagement in the budget process, which is currently very limited.
- What is the value of bringing public comment to the budget process? Comments aren’t productive—one-sided public meeting.
- Response: there is no public process in creating the budget, so this is the place for people to participate. School Committee has its own process with public input.
- Collins Center: the joint hearing in the new section is the public process.
- People coming to give public comment might be misleading—they might think that changes can be made. Is it possible to build in hearing earlier? Can the Mayor be required to hold a public hearing? The charter also controls the executive branch.
- We don’t usually require the Mayor to have hearings, but does make sense to have this before the Mayor proposes the budget. Does this add value?
- Mayor shall have a joint meeting with City Council and School Committee during the period of development of the budget. Can change the purpose to be a public hearing.
- Public really wants to react to what is proposed—difficult to give input before then.
- We elect our officials to give them the responsibility to prepare a budget—impossible to have individual citizens help plan—what is the value? There are public hearings on individual parts of the budget—i.e. capital improvement plan.
- On the SC side, public hearings helped to see the breadth of reaction to particular program cuts. To hear from those affected on the importance of certain aspects was helpful. Might not be able to do something about it, but did help give another perspective on how to balance resources. Didn’t usually lead to changes, but did at times.
- Go back to recommendation: no change to language. Motion to add it, seconded. Should this be the Mayor or the City Council who calls this? How early in the process should it happen? This proposal is a very limited time period. Recommendation is opposed—7-2 against.
Section 5-3: Capital Improvement Program
- Recommendation is to add a new section that keeps the city moving forward in terms of a CIP—City has made progress in recent years, and want to keep momentum going in terms of facilities, infrastructure, equipment. This would be the new section (a), with (a) and (b) becoming (b) and (c). Usually this is part of a city manager’s powers/duties.
- Love this language and intent.
- Has to have some information about how plan performed. It’s one thing to have a CIP; the other thing is to comply with it. Has to be some type of annual report.
- Love it—maybe simplify language to be more generic and less specific. Change the specifics to add a line about information to be contained in an ordinance.
- Be sure to add more than buildings—keep comprehensive.
- Consensus: modify language a little, but keep intent. Add something about an annual report.
- Small change to 5-3(a)—current—to include submission of Mayor’s annual budget.
- Recommend simplification of language about public notice, to reflect future changes. Simplify the language?
Section 5-4: Contracts:
Add a section about independent public audit: is in other charters. Process has been set up by ordinance by City Council. They have taken on more fiduciary oversight that has worked quite well—contains Councilors and community experts. Don’t want to see it backslide, so put it in charter to keep moving forward—won’t be personality-dependent. Language still gives leeway for changes.
Section 6: Administrative Departments
Mainly about organizational plans; at this point, recommendations are vague. Need to clarify how process happens—scheduling meetings on this has been difficult. Removing the City Council’s reorganization plans is the only recommendation at the moment—most other charters don’t have this. Want more input before go further.
Not recommended: the potential of including merit principles—may conflict with contracts, etc.
Consolidated Municipal Finance Departments: trend in charters to consolidate all financial management services with a CFO who reports to the Mayor. Newton has a long tradition of split financial responsibilities with Comptroller being hired and reporting to City Council. Treasurer, Assessor, Mayor’s budget people report to Mayor. Feels the former is better for a City Manager form of government; for Newton, strong tradition has worked pretty well and kept a balance of power. Maybe not the most efficient, but keeping the system as is is the recommendation.
In Beverly, there is an interesting combination with consolidated financial department, but an independent budget analyst with specific powers and access to all information who works directly for the Council. Maybe look at in the future, but felt that now change wasn’t necessary.
Generally agreed to not make the change.
Need to add language to add line item in annual budget for 2% of previous year’s annual budget of the law department to be available to City Council for any outside council. Recommended 2% to allow a reasonable amount to hire someone, but not to make a “slush fund.”
- Uncomfortable with adding in a specific number, especially when just took one out. Does this belong in the Charter?
- Issue is that City Council could hire someone for counsel and then not have the money to pay them. Without this line, the payment could be stopped by the Mayor.
- Nice check and balance.
- Could put something in the transition section to force a set minimum that could be changed from year to year without having to change the charter.
- No real objection to 2%.
- Nothing like this in other charters (Collins Center.)
- Maybe have it set by ordinance?
- Motion made and seconded:
- Other options are specific dollar amount, no specific dollar amount, or have it set by ordinance.
- In favor: 3 Opposed: 5
- Maybe add something in transition documents—minimum?
- Concern is about a value standing the test of time—is there something more flexible?
- Motion made to add language in the transition section for 2%, but allow for the value to be amended by ordinance:
- In favor: 8 Opposed: 0
- 12-year term limits for SC; take broader look at term limits.
- Arguments in favor of 12 years: significant ramp-up curve regarding contracts, etc.; help ensure success and continuity; share institutional knowledge; less influence on MASC; Favor of symmetry: 12 years for both SC and CC—parity between bodies; coherence of overall plan in important
- Favor of 8: current structure has proper balance of healthy turnover and fresh voices; power of incumbency—strongest stay until hit limits, long tenures increase power; institutional knowledge is still accessible through those no longer serving; does not put new members at disadvantage at MASC
- Should SC have children enrolled in schools at the time they serve: with 12 year terms, people finish after kids out—are parents well represented?
- Current: if it’s not broken why fix it? Ramp-up curve not steep
- Analysis of data gathered by Anne Larner:
- change in the last 15 years
- school community is its own universe—serves parents and families very directly
- staff is very directly affected by SC
- want new blood and institutional knowledge
- 1985-1999 v. 2001 to 2015—found that 70% of incumbents return to office
- 1985-1999—term limits accounted for 29% of turnover; 62% was voluntary
- 2001-2015—term limits accounted for 57% of turnover; 31% was voluntary
- Incumbents were defeated at identical rate—power of incumbency is strong
- Dependent on term limits for turnover
- Very few times there has been “too much” turnover
- If we change the system we have now, will we lose something important? Are the reasons to change valid?
- Motion to go back to 8 year term limits—seconded.
- Helpful to talk first about term limits for Mayor
- Want to discuss this as a system
- Mayor is already stronger; if have term limits for CC and SC, why not for Mayor?
- What we have now works—keep term limits for SC and not for CC
- Substantial number of seats not contested even when empty
- People don’t run because they don’t have enough time to serve their community
- Don’t agree with that—there are some very competitive races
- 12 year limit gives more flexibility
- SC needs to reflect voters, community and taxpayers; don’t put too much emphasis on having parents on SC—need to get support from whole community during overrides; therefore SC needs to reflect whole community
- Term limits have been mostly positive; times when a large contingent left, only a few were term-limited out. Some left on their own and some by the ballot box.
- Not comfortable voting on this for SC alone. Withdraw the motion.
- Don’t need to get elected officials to agree with changes. The current SC members want to keep it to 8 years, works against their interest.
- Concerns that reaching the “tipping point” as a CC. This works reasonably well. Are they making too many changes? Making changes where don’t need to?
- Difference between SC and CC—political changes in earlier charter?
- Pushback from a number of City Councilors to extend term limits to 16 years. To have different limits for each branch, seems inconsistent. In other communities, it is consistent—mostly 6 and 8 years. Wants to avoid small limit for one and an expansive limit for another. Also noticed that SC member were paid substantially less than in other communities—gives a sense that SC are treated differently.
- Discussed tabled until July 12th. Make an early item on the agenda.
Number of Wards:
- Changes wouldn’t happen until 2020—after the next census.
- No incentive to change number of wards. Problem doesn’t exist.
- Brooke: Something to put on the agenda: Concerned about 5 at-large councilors. Thinks they should be 4, so that it makes an easy 2/3 vote.
- Concensus: no switch from 8 wards.
Article 2 and 4: Proposed Prohibitions on Holding Multiple Elected Offices
Belong under eligibility. Substantive change is to stop elected officials from serving on Charter Commission—maybe in the future it would be helpful to have them serve. Response: they will always be available and have an investment in the status quo. What does ‘appointed city office’ mean? Does that mean Boards and Commissions? Yes, that was the intent. Maybe add “except in circumstances determine by ordinance” or something like that.
Should they remove “or appointed”? Keep it to the elected offices. Consensus to do that.
Next meeting: June 29, 3016
Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop