Check out our latest set of observer notes from Charter Commission meetings by clicking here: Observer Notes The latest meetings have been focused on the issue of Area Councils, including a hearing with panelists from area councils and neighborhood associations and two recent regular meetings.
Charter Commission Meeting
October 19, 2016
Attending: Josh Krintzman (Chair), Rhanna Kidwell (Vice-Chair), Bryan Barash, Jane Frantz, Anne Larner, Brooke Lipsitt, Chris Steele
Approval of Minutes: Approved unanimously.
Sallee Lipshutz: Where are the letters regarding Article 9? She requests they are posted online. [Josh and Rhanna: letters aren’t usually published. Not required to be posted publicly.] Scenario 2: draft language from the Collins Center effectively removes the Area Councils as legal entities in the city charter. Would strongly recommend that the article 9 lanuage reflect communications and advisory in their missions; reflect that elections be under the auspices of city; purpose be retained in its entirely and to expand to include them as legal entities of the city government. Add indemnification to Area Councils as given to members of other Boards and Commissions. City Council’s ability to work will be decreased and so Area Councils will fill an void.
Bob Burke: Secretary of NHAC: read Serge’s letter that sent to the Charter Commission. Take following course: continue to include article 9 in city charter, maintain the current structure by only making minor revisions, require municipal election process, allow them ability to receive city funds and grants. Not a request for automatic funding…allow city council to make decisions on functions of area council, rather than put in the charter. Recognize that the charter is fully democratic in terms of organizing themselves. Received many requests about correspondence that has been sent. Area Councils have been totally transparent.
Nathanial Rifkin: share numbers, looked at 2015 election turnout numbers. In uncontested races, turnout was between 8 and 12%, in contested races was between 13 and 18%, also in line with historic area council races. If take average size of current area council, end up with 13.2 area councils—not 30 as mentioned in the last meeting. Disapprove of Collins Center viewpoint—wrong direction to take it. Chasing after a problem that isn’t sufficiently important for the city to address.
Sue Flicop: against area councils; Charter Commission is finally at the point to reduce the size of the City Council, but this proposal adds more elected officials and a whole new layer of governments. Adding area councils and giving them the authority they are asking for is inequitable unless every part of the city is part of an area council. This creates a complicated system for voters when the work of area councils can be done by neighborhood associations.
Phil Herr: involved with Austin Street project. Newtonville Area Council came up with a seriously tilted survey that came up with a lot of votes against it. The city gets a much better project by that effort than it otherwise would have had. Provides an enormous service to the city. Regarding the size of the city council, supports a reduction whatever the number and getting clarity regarding some of the rules.
Ernest Lowenstein: simply consider keeping the existing section 9 in the charter intact, as suggested by Mr. Burke. The Charter Commission is already reducing the size of the city council by 50% and it will be twice as hard to have their voices heard. Area Council are a quasi-governmental organization has been a “godsend” in some neighborhoods. They have risen in response to certain issues. Disagrees with statement at earlier meeting that citizens don’t always get their voices heard—developer goes first, then the City Council, and finally the citizens. This is not opportunity—but the Area Councils do give them that.
Joy Huber: Newtonville Area Council: neighborhood groups can’t provide the viability and insurance that the city provides—can’t run a Village Day without that. Are doing a service to the councilors—people would be calling the councilors much, much more if the Area Council wasn’t there.
Karen: been a really intense article, taking it seriously, appreciate all the discussion. Moving forward, there was solid agreement to continue the discussion. Discussion what belongs with the City Council and what belongs in the charter.
Jane: review of Article 9 followed the same process. Gathered data and created options. Ready now to zero in on things. Did follow usual proceedings as with other articles.
CS: Function of area councils is communicative
- Collins Center proposal was a bit stark in terms of language. If it should go in the charter, it needed to be embellished. Preference to expand that—not to the current level, which is too detailed. Current 9-2 talks about providing services and functions—has more texture. Doesn’t have a list of things to put in, but does need to be more than “just to advise.”
JF: agree. Wants to include “to enhance citizen involvement.” Some statement about communication as well.
BL: not convinced that she supports this at all. Understand the desire for communication—that’s what they should be about if we have area councils. Question as to whether that is their exclusive role. Permitting limited self-government and acting as legal entities of the City government that is troubling. Lives in Newtonville Area Council, and never heard from them except for one issue. Still stuck on why we have them in the charter, rather than the language. Haven’t agree on real purpose. Josh: trying to decide what they would be and then decide whether it should be in or not.
BB: Real purpose is in 9-8.
KM: 9-8 leaves it to the City Council. She seconds it, and that was why the Collins Center proposed test is the way it is. Did take out the line that Brooke did not like.
AL: confused about which piece of paper they are working from. Is is the scenarios and the articles? Is it the intent to go through the articles piece by piece?
KM: decided at the last meeting that CC wanted to start fresh, so honed in on 5-6 different section and pivotal decision points. Walking through the points right now. Gave brief starter language.
AL: still too brief.
Collins Center: good place to think about purpose—was intended to be brief. Could easily be expanded to include citizen participation.
JK: purpose to encourage citizen involvement in government at the neighborhood involvement and to facilitate communication between residents and city officials.
RK: not crazy about participate in government. Prefer different language…advice city council and mayor on neighborhood issues. The former pushed it to a different level.
BB: purpose is proposed—doing this as another outlet for people to be engaged. Discussion document is more explicit in what expecting them to do.
RK: no one should have to be elected to area council to participate in government. Neighborhood associations have provided communication, etc. This makes it an entity that she doesn’t think it is.
BB: if put in charter, the purpose would be to encourage citizen engagement in government.
RK: Then what about neighborhoods without area councils? Will they be able to participate?
BB: yes, because they have the option.
KM: Was to be a statement about values and neighborhood involvement. Had decided that they shouldn’t and that was focused on area councils. “Purpose of article is to encourage area council as a way to ….” Might solve the difficulty.
JF: Like simpler language. Many citizen groups that encourage citizen involvement…doesn’t lessen the important of other associations.
BL: How about the word “engagement” rather than “involvement.” The former sounds more two-way.
RK: prefer language from the Collins Center—advise on city-wide issues. Gives specific responsibility and clarity to what the councils do that distinguishes them from other groups in Newton.
BB: Thought statement was in addition to Collins Center language. Could have both.
AL: where are we going? Not clear if everyone has the same image. Could someone lay out a road map about what they are going to discuss?
JF: at last meeting, identified several issues as being areas of concern. If were to include article in charter, how would the issues be dealt with. One was about boundaries.
AL: so that is the road we are travelling down?
JF: yes. The second was how a new council would be formed…
AL: OK…wasn’t clear.
JK: both sentences work together.
RK: but doesn’t like the citizen engagement one. Really like the Collins Center—it doesn’t marginalize other groups.
BB: feeling like stuck on this. How about a straw vote on the statement.
[Josh reads it—new sentence first, then the Collins Center sentence. BB motion to include the statement with both parts. ]
BB: requests a division of the question. First sentence, then the next.
[VOTE: 5 in favor of the first sentence; 2 against; 1 abstention. Motion passes.
Discussion on second sentence:
BL: is troubled, as she is by Board and Commissions. Bodies that are considered advisory and that no one pays any attention to. Implication is that the City Council and Mayor are intended to heed that advice. Thinks it is unrealistic.
AL: find it troubling to vote on sentences without seeing what the whole thing would look like. If had a whole draft, might make more sense. Finds this problematic.
Collins Center: first half enables city council to establish area councils.
JK: likes second sentence. Doesn’t like statements of intent—just lay out powers and duties.
KM: Am comfortable with the first sentence after all. Sees no danger in advisory line.
[Josh rereads lines. Second sentence: The city Council may establish AC to advice the City Council and Mayor on neighborhood issues. 4 in favor, 3 against. Passes.]
JF: One of the issues discussed at length last time is about the boundaries. Several possibilities: city council could establish them if the neighborhood asks. (???) Is it best that include how the boundaries are set—by ordinance? By charter? Were concerns about putting them in the charter….
AL: issue of boundaries is tied up with elections. Very hard to separate the two. From what learned about the election process under the current method, the potential for the future is to have a very inefficient, cumbersome burden on the Election Commission. AC boundaries not part of the current boundaries—need solution to to solve the tension between these things. Need to use the state lists—can use precinct lines (not ward lines) or have a different election process. One option to reduce burden—have the petitioners propose area council to be made up of precincts and to try to conform to neighborhoods. There is a real dilemma/challenge to address.
BB: this is absolutely critical. One of few cities that do it—should be open to adaptation as they evolve.
JF: concern about putting boundaries in the charter. Is 2016 thinking. Charter could exist for 50-60 years—have no idea what elections would look like them. Have City Council set them by ordinance give flexibility.
CS: precincts change due to census. Could get into situation where area council might need to be redefined as changes in census.
KM: Certain danger is being too specific in charter, making themselves experts when it is a huge public policy issue. Strongly support flexibility where they can add it—not to hold them back, but to have them evolve in a healthy functional way. Supports the city council having the power to set boundaries.
Makes motion to include line giving city council power to set boundaries. VOTE: 6 in favor, 0 opposed, 1 abstention
JF: Chris suggested that they talk about elections now—follows setting of boundaries. Heard at last meeting, heard a variety of opinions about how elections can be run. Not hearing a consensus on part of people who contacted commission.
AL: considering vote took place on boundaries, then rational to give elections to City Council to determine. Both are wound together—makes sense to keep together.
BL: doesn’t think that based on evidence gathered. Sees lots of pain and not a lot of benefit associated with city running the elections. Some version of the structure we have today. Will come into place by a request by an interested group of citizens—those are the ones who should run the elections. Is troubled about area councils v. neighborhood association issue. Heard from reps from neighborhood association. Having the city run elections for area council—not going to be easy—proposing an enormous burden by having the city adopt elections. Should be clear on that point.
Collins Center: whether are council reps are city officials—that will determine whether they need to be elected by the city. Could have a prohibition against municipal elections.
BB: thinking has evolved. Somewhat of a concerning precedent to have an elected official from an election not run by city elections office. Some private election process that can’t necessarily claim veracity of is concerning.
JF: in followup conversations with David Olson, was possible to have city run elections for 4 current area councils. If number grew and election process did not change in future, would overwhelm his office. Concerned about making a decision in 2016, when elections are evolving. Propose that city council would make the decision about how elections are run—they can update the elections process.
KM: elections in other cities, elections done by by-laws of area councils. If get into too much detail, making themselves experts in area councils. Feel that undertaking too much. If leave to city council, they can work with elections office. Am comfortable with leaving it with city council. Official status is also left to city council.
BL: third option is make no decision [KM: would be set by ordinance.] Still troubled. To do with underlying concern with essentially defining these as governmental bodies. Sees functions as indistinct with other organization that are not governmental bodies. What is the effect of letting the City Council determine the elections.
BB: either way they are still government bodies. A volunteer board is not a government body.
JK: Any motion.
BL: move that we allow area councils to run their own elections.
VOTE: 3 in favor; 5 against—motion fails
BB: separate motion. Elections to be set by ordinance.
VOTE: 6 in favor; 1 opposed; 1 abstention
KM: going on to rules of formation of area councils—set by ordinance in terms of number of signatures—would correspond to expansion, etc.
CS: issue so tightly tied to setting boundaries.
JF: disagree. If going to have new councils set up throughout the city, best to have that process set out by charter.
BB: Agree with Karen—it is important to give flexibility. Would like to see this as something that can evolve.
AL: lots of dilemmas. Have some sympathy for having flexibility to evolve. Have concern about equity issues. Some sense of balance and broad statement…
BB: was thinking of putting something in transition documents about moratorium or current process in place until city council decides.
JF: concern about doing it by ordinance related to some specific things with area councils. One: concern about mega-council. Also a small group of streets might want to form an area council with a business district. By setting it in the charter, can set minimum/maximum number of residents that can be in an area.
BL: Was thinking in the same direction too. Power doesn’t have to do with actual number of people. Without a minimal or maximal size, have an even greater potential disparity that even in the present situation. Could have several area councils in one ward, providing an imbalance. Need to protect from a potential imbalance.
BB: wasn’t considering that. Was thinking about signatures, etc. Would be OK to set a size.
RK: wouldn’t be opposed to say something that the city council can determine, but is ok with something about size, gerrymandering, megacouncils.
JF: should have min/max number of voters. Concerned about gerrymandering. Difficult for her to come up with a solution. Is an issue that needs to be addressed.
CS: no solution on gerrymandering, but on other issues…have min/max of current area councils?
KM: all this requires an intensive study—sees this as months of work (research). Could keep signature requirements flexible, and then language about keeping a balance—a values statement.
BB: thinks there is a possibility of putting in broad boundaries. Something like no more than 20% of the population and no less than ???.
JF: Table item until can gather more documentation about what a possible min/max should be? Decide by ordinance or in charter? If in the charter, do they want to set min/max?
BL: if going to be in there and devolve responsibility to the council, is OK to come up with framework about what the council should do. One way to consider it that population area should be no smaller than 1 precinct and no larger than the size of a ward—account for changes in population over time. Boundaries should be drawn by city council with the goal of making them as compact as possible. Could use language like that.
Motion: in concept, rules for formation set by ordinance with proviso that no area council shall serve an area smaller than the pop of the average precinct nor larger than the pop of the average ward, and that boundaries be drawn in such a way that the service areas are as compact as reasonable at the time of its formation.
RK: talking about formation, still talking about boundaries…maybe combine into one statement.
BB: Maybe sentence Brooke proposed belongs in boundaries area.
Collins Center: may be other things to add to the city council direction.
KM: rename section: formation and boundaries?
BL: her motion is talking about boundaries. Formation can have a lot of other characteristics. Rhanna’s suggestion gets more to the subject matter.
VOTE: 8 in favor
JF: deliberation of powers and duties: confused by current charter that says that area council may have advisory or substantive powers. Board orders say they should be advisory and not substantive. No other models from other cities. Question is whether they should be advisory or have substantive powers.
BB: also evolved here as well. Seems to him that a lot of the worry from members of area councils are around this question—if take this out, won’t be able to continue. To him, putting in the charter something about being determined by ordinance is essentially the same thing. Wouldn’t mind being more specific and easing more people’s concerns.
BL: and what would you recommend?
BB: in 9-8i and 9-8ii
BL: mean advisory?
RK: doesn’t feel comfortable laying out provisions in the charter. Can’t really form new area councils with a different type of power. Can’t now form unequal area councils. Doesn’t feel that they should detail them in the charter.
JF: issue of equity. Would hate to see an area council formed that was given substantive authority when other area councils did not have that.
BL: speaks to the issue that has been a concern—the issue of whether members of area councils are in fact members of the government, whether they are indemnified. What happens when the Nonantum village Association runs their own village day? Equity issue—why should we be giving group benefits (i.e. insurance, indemnification) when we don’t do that for other organization. Insisting that if want a level playing field, need to become an area council.
CS: indemnification is a model we should include.
RK: even PTOs indemnify themselves—it’s not worth a huge amount of money.
JK: a motion?
JF: motion that area council shall have advisory roles, determined by city council ordinance.
AL: question: is there anything that the current advisory committees do that couldn’t be done under this language?
BB: in his mind there is. Setting up a village day, beautification is doing something—not advisory.
CS: could say item 1–advisory authority with respect for neighborhood issues, but leave item 2 the same.
JK: ordinance could include village days, etc.
BB: doesn’t think so…these aren’t advisory roles.
JK: says that advisory roles and powers established by ordinance. Current charter gives them the power and they can have village days now.
Collins Center: could say area councils should have advisory roles and may perform such other functions that the ordinance shall provide.
JF: likes that—provides the ability to change and gives them nimbleness to change in the future.
BL: language as we are suggesting it will be universal—generic and not specific to one area council. Ensure there is a template that applies to all area councils so there is no preference among them.
BB: add “and shall be consistent across all area councils.”
AL: concerns her. Cookie cutter area councils may not make sense—one might want to do something that others aren’t interested in doing. Might require a particular authority.
BL: wants to permit them but not require.
Collins Center: think it should apply to all area councils—not “consistent” –then can address other areas not covered.
VOTE: 8 in favor
JF: All use the word “shall” and not “may”
KM: does everyone feel comfortable with boundaries and formation—did hit all the points that need to? Not sure that they have?
AL: reality is that see something drafted in front of them to see.
KM: want to make best effort tonight.
Collins: is there anything that requires more specificity—by generic sentence that would be established by ordinance in the City Council.
JF: think that they’ve done a very thorough job. Would like to see a draft—might illuminate some issues.
JF: other provisions: area council are required to have by-laws that they create, have an annual report that is submitted to the city and financial records. Would like a little more specificity regarding financial records. Seemed a little “light” to her. Is this fine with everyone else.
BB: looking at current charter? Collins Center procedures require them to be set by ordinance. Motion that accept what is in the discussion document.
CS: Including all the language? Including the liaison?
BL: think this issue of area council liaison—takes more discussion. Can imagine that the city council or mayor could set a liaison to groups throughout the city. Would like to take that sentence out.
JK: Collins Center language without the liaison.
KM: is concern about preferential treatment? Idea is to minimize disorder.
BL: doesn’t have anything to do with elections.
KM: intention isn’t a bad one—just so that not interfering…
BL: not sure what the person is supposed to do, what their role is, etc.
JK: out of the motion, so let’s move along.
VOTE: 6 in favor, 2 abstentions. Motion passes.
BB: motion that the City Council designate an area council liaison.
RK: object on same grounds—overemphasizes some groups over others. Need to give some definition to the role of liaison.
BB: isn’t saying that hire someone exclusively. Is saying that someone is the designated contact person.
JF: suggest that language is unclear. Brooke and Rhanna raise good points. Clear to her what the role is….suggest that put this aside to a later date.
BL: would be fine if said that liaison is the sole contact between the area council and the city. Reality is that area councils eat a lot of staff time and resources. See this is one more person—not rational or possible to have one entry point.
BB: shall be the primary contact point for city staff.
Collins Center: came from conversation from David. He gets these requests because they don’t know who who to talk to. He strongly supported this idea. Virtually every other city with area councils designated a staff member as liaison. Can be customized.
RK: not at all clear who this person would be…can’t really brainstorm the details of this tonight. Would prefer to do this at a future meeting.
BB: would people be OK with including it and then adding a definition?
RK: No..don’t know they agree on a definition.
JF: worry that could be misconstrued in the future and be used in a way that is unintended.
Still have motion—VOTE: 1 in favor, 7 opposed. Motion fails.
CS: need to revisit indemnity, include in area 11.
Motion: that article 11 mention area councils and indemnify them. VOTE: 4 in favor, 2 opposed, 2 abstaining. Motion carries.
BB: include membership—determined by the city council or a number of people?
BB and RK: back and forth: add size to formation? How about membership?
CS: How about composition—formation and composition?
Motion to add in: 8 in favor
JK: next step is to talk about if should be in the charter
BL: not sure ready to discuss whether should be in the charter. Would like to see the changes from tonight.
BB: if waiting, can have a potential definition for the liaison.
JK: people want to wait until next time.
AL: two issues that have to do with designer selection committee and design review. Selection committee—minimalist approach to make more consistent with state’s language. Using language that is clear and has definitions.
Design review—some clarity and to take out last sentence (added in 1971). Latter hasn’t been used since 1971, therefore erase it from the section. Has been passed by Josh Morse (building commissioner) and he is fine with this. Anne has spoken to several past chairs of public facilities, members of design review.
This is just cleaning up the language.
JK: When took a first pass, were confused and needed to do more research.
RK: thanks to Anne for paying attention to detail. Motion to accept proposed changes.
AL: After had straw vote on Article 5, had questions from Ruthanne Fuller and Dave Wilkinson. Also reached out to Newton CFO. Documents have changes in color—copies are in B&W, however. Anne reads through the changes. Changes added precision to language and generally agreed upon by staff—see online version. In Section 5-4, changes are to make current with listing used. Section 5-6 changes are more precise and up-to-date.
BL: other copy has a question about moving a section 5.4b to 5.4g.
AL: was a suggestion from Ruthanne Fuller. Anne is neutral on that.
- Perfectly comfortable with the way it reads now. Moves for approval on article as amended.
BB: felt there was a lack of clarity. Developed a definition for “organization plan” and set a date that the council would be notified by. Is March 1 an appropriate date?
AL: City Council President felt March 1 was fine.
BL: that is the very latest—mid February is fine. Couldn’t be any later than March 1. Question about agencies—what else is included?
Collins: includes Board and Commissions. Not operational.
BL: Maybe be a little more precise in terms of reorganization.
Collins Center: add “departments performing municipal functions?”
BL: Why not use “departments?”
Collins Center: need to define “departments”
[Discussion about definitions]
JF: concerns about this. To what extent with this constrain the staff from making city agencies more effective? If every consolidation needs to be approved by City Council?
AL: purpose is to attempt to bring this to a higher level and define it….to solve the problem Jane is worried about. Issue is definition. Maybe put on hold for now? Agency is the wrong word…
Next meeting next week.
Adjourned 9:44 p.m.
September 28, 2016
Article 9: Neighborhood Area Councils Review
In attendance: Josh, Brooke, Jane, Karen, Anne, Rhanna, and Bryan
Sallee: How should boundaries be created? By the mayor.
Valuable body? Yes! Volunteers. Elected. Collected information about local concerns and bring them to City Hall. Fair? Democratic process. Associations’ focus: cultural, bake sales, not-elected, not official. Taking away ward area councils not supporting NAC means you are stifling the voice of people.
David Olson: Presenting statistics of the NACs and the impact on Clerk’s office. NHAC was only one, held on municipal voting day. Minimal impact. LWVN staffed them, then stopped. Process became more complex with the addition of three other NAC. Ballots designed, printed, office staff organized them, polls staffed, swearing in ceremony. EV has to include elections for NAC in 18 precincts. Not set up for state boundaries election. Very time consuming for staff to figure out the neighborhood boundaries, check signatures and print ballots
Mark Kaufman: 4 NAC do not work together. Session was fascinating; It was the best of grassroots. Last Sunday was village day in NV. Spent lots of time talking about Orr Block, Austin St., the 12 person law-suit against it, linking the N side and the S side of the village. Surprised by the negative comments last week. NV meetings have businesses come, young, old etc. NAC provide vital information back to city councilors. Result of removing ACs from charter would delegitimize ACs.
Bob Burke: NHAC Got him thinking about “Do we represent people?” Started by getting involved in the dog park issue. Brought people together to hash it out vigorously! People are happy now. Current project is local historic district in NH. Setting up a comprehensive outreach program to contact everyone. We will follow up with everyone. We want everyone involved. I don’t know how it will turn out, but we will conduct a thorough process.
Maxine: NUFAC – Historically the dumping ground for TV towers etc that no one else wanted. Now we have a group who will go to the mayor, go to city council. NAC hears the little issues that wouldn’t otherwise be paid attention to. It gives little people a voice.
Maureen Reilly Meagher – David, did you compile the number of hours the clerks office spent on this. Surprised by the commissions thoughts to remove NAC from charter. It was significant hours to get signatures to form the councils. Forming the map would be a good start to spreading councils. Our meetings are open, our agendas are public, we are audited. That cannot happen with neighborhood associations. No outreach from the city otherwise. Move forward more cohesively.
Charter Commission Discussion:
Karen: Leading this article are Jane, Karen, Chris (not here). Reviewed for the last three months. Go to Newton.gov to see information they gathered. Successful hearing to air out issues for support and issues.
Jane: 1971 Charter, Article 9 included NAC. First time. Attended transition team in 2010 for S Warren. Only NHAC. (date?) Three added. Newton Center tried but had issues with signature collection. Difference between NAC and associations. ACs take on beautification projects, fundraising, advocacy. Assoc. another means of neighborhood associations. No elected board. Do undertake many of the same projects. Matt Miller trying to get Oak Hill AC going again.
Karen: Worchester City only other city to include ACs in the charter, but none ever formed. Some big cities have them: Tacoma WA, Spokane, WA, Washington DC, St Paul MN, Columbus OH, Los Angeles, CA
Current language in our charter, vague, confusing and outdated. Worthwhile to revisit language.
Jane: Have developed three scenarios after hearing all of the input from various sides. Are not placing any value judgment on any of the scenarios.
- Remove AC from the charter. Would be dissolved. Could be recreated within a city ordinance. Consequences? Grandfather in existing councils.
- Deliberate Article 9: how ACs are formed, boundaries, elections. Keep in charter, but deliberate purpose etc.
- Status Quo: redraft the language and reformat only. Is this scenario viable?
See September 23rd memo from Collins Center
Discussion: Rhanna – I’m not interested in the status quo. Anne – What could the substantive changes be? Language in important. What does cleaning up mean? Bryan – Valuable to talk through #2 as a starting place. I came in thinking, because of how complex this is, to remove NAC from charter and create an ordinance. Josh – No scenarios should be eliminated, but okay to start with #2.
Karen: #2 – deliberate what is worth keeping and what is worth changing. Jane: What belongs in Article 9? Brooke: Are we discussing whether or not we are keeping NAC in the charter? Karen: Look at title of article – The Neighborhood Area Councils. Purpose of the article to encourage citizen participation. Broader title: Neighborhood xxx – includes councils, associations, groups entities to involve citizen engagement. Expand the article to include other neighborhood groups? Concerned about the impact on the clerk’s office. Look at different possibilities for elections. Jane: problem with article 9.2-9.6 talks about the service area and signatures before boundaries are talked about. Process needs to be clarified. Form organically? Define a threshold for formation, so minimums and maximums are defined. Other cities, city sets up the boundaries. Some are set up and some do not. Boundaries can partially eliminate concerns of David. Josh – Charter can decide boundaries or people can decide or City council or Mayor can decide. NAC can be villages or wards. Rhanna – Village boundaries are not defined. Charter has to give someone the responsibility. Brooke: Does everybody need to be represented by an NAC? We could use Wards keeping in mind neighborhoods. There are rules about how wards are drawn. It would conform to State lines/rules? Rhanna: Precincts are defined by State law. Bryan: Why do we have wards and precincts the way we do: because areas should be equal in “value”. Jane: I’m in Waban, but on the line of NHAC. I can go to both depending on the issue. There is nothing in the charter to prevent me from participating in one or the other. Bryan: Is this a political layer of government or not?
Karen: Look at memorandum of discussion with David. No one else has this separate municipal election, lending itself to so much ballot confusion and frustration. Jane: David has expressed feeling overwhelmed and frustration.
Keep municipal elections or eliminate municipal election. Section 9.7. Read memo of affect of NACs on city staff. Clerks office cannot do it without adding staff. Work to be done between elections with people changing streets etc. Very low turnout, often uncontested elections Collins memo: Look at what other cities do typically. Govern their own elections and bylaws and remain unofficial or can then be appointed by the mayor and/or city council. Anne: What is done in other cities since the League did it in Newton, but doesn’t now.
Rep from the Collins Center: other cities do not have municipal elections. Require AC submit bylaws for how their elections will be held. Process approved by city. Operate as a non-profit, then send an official to the city (?) Brooke: We need to decide whether or not this is a political body. If it is we need to figure out away to include everyone. Universal, equal, logistically sound. Karen: Incredibly complex. What is the purpose of NAC needs to be defined. Jane: Some areas want to stay as an association for good reason, but want the representation. Brooke: Fundamental question is regardless of what it is called, does it function as a municipal part of the government? What is the difference between the weighting of the association and an area council. Anne: CH operates as a political entity. They don’t operate village days. They get in there and swing.
Section 9.8 .1: Four area to discuss. Advisory or Advisory & substantive authority from the city council? Nation-wide they are advisory. Brooke: I heard the ACs want to have more substantive authority; they want budget, staff etc. How do you do that since they are elected by such a tiny group of people. Bryan: City can set up any group and give it substantive powers. Rhanna: NAC do good work in an advisory role, but some area will not organize a council and so we cannot give existing councils substantive powers. Especially since there may be over 30 councils if the entire city is set up. Anne: I don’t agree with giving pockets of the city substantive powers. Bryan: This language we are talking about sounds more like a ordinance. Jane: When I attend WAC it is… When I attend NHAC it is much more like a forum.
Section 9.8.2: #3 issue of funds – charter says NAC may receive funds from people but not from the city. If we provided funds, we are providing money for some and not others. Bryan: City can make grants now. Why can’t City decide if it wants to give out money. Josh: Maybe if there were money there, more people would form. Jane: discussion with Councilor Rice about unbalance of funding. City is asking AC to undertake work without funding it.
Sections 9, 10, 11: Give over to city council
Area Council liaison with city staff: Dedicated interface, Adherence to Article 11 (interference), AC and Representation of community interface, Indemnify, Inclusion of business and nonprofits.
What would happen if we removed this article from the charter? Provide a transition provision. Grandfather. Order City Council to do something. Sunset them for five years. Encourage them to become associations. How do you want them to exist going forward?
Rhanna: We’ve gone through positives and negative, purpose, responsibilities and powers. How can maintain the good things about them and not further burden our city staff. I think they should have their bylaws and have a status of a board or commission and have their advisory authority. Can’t have a situation where there is inequity. Creation has to be organic; can’t force anyone to create an AC. Should be an ordinance referenced in the charter. Organizations are self-governing. We should only keep things in the charter that belong in the charter.
Bryan: Simple as possible. Acknowledge AC in charter. May exist by ordinance until city council decides to do something different.
Brooke: Disturbed by the fact AC are in the charter, but don’t represent everyone. My instinct is they do not belong in the charter. Means so many people are elected when we are trying to reduce the size of the city council. Add something to the City Council portion of the charter saying the councilors may authorize area councils blah, blah, blah. Not sure how I feel about the transition piece. Consider a sunset clause to put pressure on City Council to do something.
Jane: If this were 1971 I would not be including this article in the charter. Not sure how if happened. It doesn’t appear any other areas will create councils, which means an inequitable situation. Seems associations want to stay that way and AC like being ACs. Anne: So many pieces to this puzzle and so many sensitivities. People have put so much work into becoming AC it doesn’t seem right to cut them off at the knees, but how to make the situation more equitable. Passing it off to city council seems like a Pontius Pilot move to me. I like Rhanna’s approach. I want to do right by those who have developed an AC, but do right by those…
Josh: A government entity belongs in the charter. Problem is people self identify with villages and not wards. How does removal of NAC affected by the potential of removal of ward area councillor. Should be Ward Area Councils. Can’t see the difference between NAC and associations. People should be encouraged to form together. Fall off the wagon is giving people the ability to legally influence government. Do it by ordinance. AC disband and reform by ward. By precinct there would be 32 ACs. Wards are equal. Don’t know if precincts are equal by population. Have to deal with a transition section, but I am uncomfortable elevating them to a legal standing.
Karen: Simplicity. Organic, but turned over to City Hall. Grandfather ACs. Can’t turn my back on the burden on city clerk’s office. Define an official liaison to city officials. Need to commit to capturing in a neutral way what is happening in the neighborhood and reporting back.
Brooke: what happens to wards without AC? I’m uncomfortable about memorializing AC and fostering an imbalance. If the city council is going to listen to Bike Newton, NVA, Beautiful Newton etc. why should ACs belong in the charter?
Jane: How do we say we value neighborhood representation?
Rhanna: If we have Ward ACs, three are in one ward, so it is still inequitable.
Brooke: I don’t think AC belong in the charter!
Bryan: Give the new city council the flexibility if they think ACs should be formalized.
Jane: Bryan, should AC be an article in the charter?
Bryan: Kick the can down the road. If should be by ordinance.
Jane: An ordinance makes it more nimble.
Brooke: Sounds like we are all in agreement.
Josh: Handle in the transitional section
Bryan: Makes a motion that the city council may by ordinance establish area councils. (Scenario 1)
Brooke: Makes a motion to remove Article 9 and put the issue of neighborhood representation in Article 3.
Josh: Are NAC a layer of government? Bryan: Maybe. Let it be decided by City Council.
Karen: I think #1 is lacking. I like #2 so we don’t eliminate ACs and create chaos (?) Change elections, focus on powers etc. so there’s not so much xxx. We need to define AC more.
Josh: Suggesting article 9.2 be replaced. Add language suggesting city council takes into account NACs. I have trouble putting into the charter something that doesn’t really do anything. Currently city council doesn’t have to listen or delegate a thing.
Rhanna: need to acknowledge NACs exist. Josh: Yes, but they should be acknowledged in the Transition section.
Brooke: Need to avoid forcing the hand of the council in a way they may not want to. I would rather be permissive than instructive.
Jane: Which parts of it belong as an ordinance and which parts should be in the charter?
Rhanna: Clarify the process. Come back to this when we have some language.
Karen: What have we agreed to?
Boundaries to be defined, city cannot run elections, be in advisory role, the city may have an interface, they are indemnified,
Brooke: it should be in the charter’s preamble to encourage city councilors to take input from citizen groups. It goes to our values.
Josh: Let’s table everything else to our next meeting. Adjourned at 9:50pm
Submitted by Pia Bertelli
Charter Commission Public Hearing
September 14, 2016
Attending from the Charter Commission: Josh Krintzman (Chair), Rhanna Kidwell (Vice-Chair), Bryan Barash, Jane Frantz, Anne Larner, Brooke Lipsitt, Karen Manning, Chris Steele
Attending Panelists: Anil Adyanthaya, Marc Kaufman, Sallee Lipshutz, Srdj Nedeljkovic, John Rice, Terry Sauro
August Minutes: Approved with some clarifications of discussion (8-0).
Betsy Barker (on behalf of Rodney Barker): Rodney has been an Aldermen and School Committee member in the past, while holding a full-time job. Loved serving Newton. Feels that amount of decision-makers is needed to do all the work; otherwise, with fewer City Councilors, only people who can do the job full-time will be able to serve. Trying to fix something that is not broke.
Rodney Barker: feels very strongly that current City Council works very well. While full Board meetings can be rather long, the work is done primarily in committee. Diversity of Council represents the diversity in the community. Reducing the size of the Board is anti-democratic—democracy works well in Newton as is. Councilors play an important role in a large city. Encourages the Charter Commission to rethink the size of the City Council, otherwise only wealthy people would be able to serve.
Ernest Lowenstein: request to speak very close to the microphone.
Panel Discussion (led by Chris Steele, Karen Manning and Jane Frantz):
KM: Thanks for joining the discussion on Article 9 on Neighborhood Councils. Thoughts are with Howard, and all hope that he feels better soon. Each article warrants a different approach. Want all to understand several points.
JF: First, research shows that most charters don’t include articles about neighborhood area councils. Second, not all issues should be resolved through the charter. As issues are uncovered over the course of the review, they might not be included in the charter, but might appear in other documentation that the CC will provide the city at the end of the review process.
CS: Panelists are from current NAC and village associations. [Introduces panelists] Please keep comments concise.
JF: 1st question: What is the mission/purpose of your NAC or village association?
AA: Two main goals: community building in Upper Falls (all types of residents and feeling that sense of community was being lost) and conduit between residents and City Council and other departments. Perceived to be more accessible than other parts of city government.
SL: Mission statement of WAC is to hear, respond to and represent village concerns and issues, provide forum for Waban issues and to promote resident involvement in local government. The Waban Improvement Society is a sister organization that does more community-type events. WAC focused more on interaction with government, informing citizens (i.e. about 40B) and representing neighborhood concerns. Cooperates with other area councils to provide Candidates’ Night during elections.
SN: purpose is to do as much as can to encourage citizen involvement in government. Community nights, village day, and to give input on issue of importance to neighborhood (i.e. what to do with the Crystal Lake Bathhouse).
MK: Council was formed 3 years ago. Tasks are to promote a public dialogue, have the community be a part of the process in terms of local government. Help develop a vision for Newtonville and discuss issues of development that are concern to the neighborhood.
JR: Area councils have a feel for each village. Each doesn’t operate exactly the same because each village is different. Communication, a lot of public meetings, on issues of interest—Crystal Lake, parking, etc. Great thing is that they have a very diverse discussion: ice cream, parking in same meeting. Many members don’t want to run for City Council. Good things happen at Area Councils.
TS: Nonantum is an association, not an area council. Started with a focus on beautification and upkeep in neighborhood. Doesn’t want to be a councilor—feels that she is effective as is. Do beautification, shop ‘m stroll, have facebook page for community events, outreach. Mission is to foster improvements and initiatives for growth, prosperity and advocacy for Nonantum. Involve elected officials, officers.
CS: 2nd question: Under current charter, Area Council are form on a grass roots level. What are your thoughts on how they are formed now, including surface areas, what has worked and suggestions for going further?
MK: How do you begin? School system? Voting district? Newtonville efforts looked at city maps, sketched out area, got feedback from people. Evolved and became more formal when make application other city. Was an organic process and different for each area council. Not a formal process.
SN: NHAC started with concerns about changes in the community. Been approached by people on south side of Route 9—part of Newton Highlands, why can’t run? So area council expanded based on people coming to them, got signatures and expanded. One of the strengths of the local structure is that it represents mutual shared interests in a community, provides for a great deal of diversity in terms of representation. Have discussed whether or not Newton be carved up into different areas—majority that current system should prevail.
AA: believe that it should be divided up by villages. Creates opportunity for hyperlocal focus—if keep them as village institutions that address issues of individual constituencies.
SL: Area Council means gain access to city councilors and people who work for the city. If have a few area councils with many areas not covered by such organizations—those areas lack the same access that others have. Thinks that every citizen in Newton should have an area that they belong to. Should not be on their shoulders to determine the boundaries. Is a terribly complex process. Has a proposal that has given to the Mayor. Should divide the city into Area Councils that resemble neighborhoods with similar concerns and then present to the City Council for them to hold hearings on, etc.
TS: focus on what is going on in Nonantum and how to improve it.
JR: CC has to look at how to set up boundaries across the city. City Council should lay out the boundaries. Councilors have had meetings where people fight over boundaries.
SN: System of notification when area councils are being formed. Should be a formal notification so that everyone in proposed area so that they can be part of that process of establishing an area council for that zone. Hope to see that improved moving forward.
SL: no funding presently; hope that the city would do this by mail to all residents in boundary area.
KM: 3rd question: Any other comments on signature gathering? Comments on election process?
SL: Election should take place at same place and same time as municipal elections. Legitimately election commissioners. Signature collection—city councilor need 50 for ward, and then 25 for an Area Councilor seems reasonable.
SN: Clarifies what is already happening—currently collect 25 signatures. For 3 of the 4 area council, elected with municipal officials.
JR: NHAC election was run by LWVN, but since have been run by city has been a much smoother process.
JF: 4th question: How does the board of a village association form its board?
TS: started off with 3, now up to 11. Don’t have elections. Put on facebook asking for people to join. No election, not formal. Don’t we all want to work together, as a council? Nor as formal as the councils, open to all things.
MK: have a fairly large number of people available in an area. Questions about how you do elections and politics. When join city voting process.
JR: agree with Terry.
AA: has been done on same ballot. Impression on legitimacy and importance of area council when elected during municipal election.
JF: 5th question: Functions may be advisory or may provide substantive authority on a range of topics. What do you perceive as the relationship between the area council and the City Council?
SL: Area has not asked for powers other than advisory. Asked to be heard as a strong voice in the community, engaged with city employees to garner info for residents and to relate concerns about City resources. Worked with reps on City Council to direct interactions with city employees. Don’t believe that they should be confined to advisory function only. If Ward Councilor is eliminated and City Council is shrunk, then Area Council might be called upon to fill more responsibility. Letter from WAC calls for power of Area Councils to be identical.
SN: NHAC has taken an advisory role, not taken authority to enact powers. Charter is being written for the future—important to maintain that clause to allow both advisory and authority on topics. Expand to include functions and activities—transportation and parking, design review, open space. Charter Commission needs to clarify clause giving city council ability to delegate power.
TS: 4 councils in Newton, with 13 villages. Why aren’t others forming councils? As far as allocating funds, how do you do that? How much do you give? Doing everything the council is doing…would like to see other villages form associations. Maybe put associations in charter? Maybe not?
MK: Love that the current charter is so big—allowed the area council to do everything and anything. Example—survey on Austin Street. Different responsibilities to the area council—would lead to different types of people running. Perceive themselves as being group-sensitive issue in Newtonville.
AA: role is largely advisory. Number of city councilors changes the area council.
SL: after 20% of boundary residents are collected, they are taken to city council, which determines whether there is a legitimate area council. Produce a resolution empowering the area council with specific allowed responsibilities. Three area councils have limited authority given to them from what is possible. Highlands Council was formed many years ago—has been given more powers. Whether they use them or not is up to the area council. Consider that all area councils be allowed the same powers. Memo to the Board of Aldermen with pros and cons of giving area councils certain powers.
KM: 6th question: Comment on sources of funding, expenditures and accounting practices? How do you manage money?
MK: One source of funding; spend virtually nothing, except on signs and printing. Most money is put aside for hardscape changes in Newtonville—benches, etc. Asking local business to contribute as well.
SN: Income is from Village Day (booth sales, silent auction, donations); spend money on Village Day, skating rink, beautification, community outreach (mailing to all in area—trying electronic); Section 9a—NHAC requests that CC consider—change so that allow area councils to accept funds from public, city and other sources. Not to mandate allocation of funding, but to allow them to accept funds. Generate new sources of revenue—establish improvement districts (also needs to be added to the charter.)
SL: Sources from silent auction on Waban Village Day–$3K—as well as matching grant made to subcommittee for bridges across Charles River walking trail. Reports finances annually—maintenance of treasury is in limbo. Hopes to handle its own funds instead of as a “city gift fund.” Lack of source of income has tied their hands has limited the ability to “take the temperature” of the community on certain issues.
TS: Have Village Day, sponsors, fundraisers, gave scholarships. Treasurer handles the money. She’s hearing the others ask for $10K, but what about the other areas without area councils?
JR: allowing them to accept funding that is approved by City Council.
AA: funds from Upper Falls Community Development Corporation—donates as needed, Village Day fees and private donations. Funding is a challenge—limits what they can do with communication.
CS: Last question: getting feedback from residents as well as acting as a conduit to the city. Describe how they communicate with residents formally and informally to get a full range of opinions.
MK: spend a lot of time on communication. Complicated because as much as they try to reach out, miss people. Have an email list of 900 names—use to inform about event. Have own website separate from city website. Do opinion surveys, word-of-mouth. Have own booths. Have gone door-to-door about public meetings. Participate in city-related blog. Have signs that go on islands in Newtonville. Still miss people, but do try.
SL: produced brochures about area council; email mailchimp list; maintain a website and post info on concerns; list emails of members; hold regular meetings; announce all meetings on City’s website. Have link from city website; collect emails from members at meetings, election days, village days. City could support by asking people to send email addresses to area councils. Exercise best efforts to reach out to residents. Facebook page and nextdoor.com
TS: Facebook page, emails, people reach out to them.
AA: facebook page; participate on Nextdoor.com, rely on city webpage, no separate web presence.
SN: everything everyone else said; what happens when someone from outside the group “hogs” the group. Use the Walnut Street Bridge for signs.
JR: lot of dialogue.
JF: Thanks so much…have people who do want to speak.
SN: Thanks to area council member who has done a lot of research.
JF: Thanks to all of your for the information and for taking the time to share their thoughts.
SL: Thanks for the opportunity. Collins Center has recommended that not include area councils in the charter. Recommend most strongly that area council will have a much better change of being successful if they are enshrined in the charter.
Public Comments Related to Article 9:
Lynn Weisberg: Very interesting to hear from all the members. Wants to focus the conversation—look at the mission, goals, purposes that can identify. Agree that citizen involvement, building community are all worthwhile. Question before the charter commission is whether or not NAC should be codified in the charter. Would urge whether the work that is being done by each of the area councils could be done by a neighborhood association. Don’t have 13 area councils. Her ability to participate in civic life has not been hampered by no area council in Newton Center. Question the assumption whether the most important organizing principal should be based on villages. Many groups are based on issues and not addresses. Simply no need to have them elevated to that status. Experience has had to do with housing issues in the city—positions taken by area councils were not representative of those villages. Gives an opinion an edge—shouldn’t carry more weight.
Councilor Albright: definition of public engagement—people willing to get involved. Charters inclusion of area council was to foster engagement in government. City Council should b charged with setting up mechanisms for how area councils should operate. Should be across the city, with city council determining boundaries and fair elections across the city. She agrees with Sallee. But…basically same people who come to area council meetings.
Lois Levin: agrees with Lynn. A lot of organizations in the city—some do a great job, some not so great. Don’t have them throughout the city, and Terry has been highly successful without an area council. We’re talking about putting something into our governmental charter—this issue isn’t there yet.
Helen Rittenberg: Lois stole her words. Do everything in power to build community. Don’t need to have anything in the constitution about this.
Dolores Acivedo Garcia: consider not including area councils in the charter. Agree with earlier points about community participation. Problem in terms of representation—shocked about election numbers. 6.3% of voters showed up to elect Area Council members, and none had more than 180 votes. Do not adequately represent views in community, especially around housing issues. Diversity of opinion in Waban—WAC is fully aware and has chosen to represent only one side. Involved in St Philip Neri site—sent letter on behalf of neighborhood, but wasn’t represented. Process issues in WAC meetings—limited dissent.
Councilor Ruthanne Fuller: Area Councils have more access and more power. Was president of the Chestnut Hill Association—no center, no school, no community center. Historic District but not the whole thing…definitely neighbors, though. Raised money for legal efforts to fight Boston College, have social events, etc. More democratic with area councils, but maybe more inclusive with neighborhood associations. Concern about money and responsibilities. CHNA thought hard about wanting to become a neighborhood area council…to force a neighborhood to have one would be very uncomfortable. 13 villages aren’t all real villages, some centers are different from others. Have 15 elementary schools—can’t use that as an organizing basis. How do you figure out the money? How give to 4 councils? Funds aren’t audited…don’t want them on the city books. To go through city expense procedures would be a nightmare for area councils and for the city. If weren’t in the charter, how much would it hurt the area councils to have to set up on their own?
Response: SN: agree with much of what Ruthanne said. Maintain diversity…leaves room for neighborhood associations to exist. What do you gain by eliminating something? SL: Comments on Ms. Garcia’s comments. WAC is transparent—discussion occurs at meetings and do not take formal positions. Feels there would be much less involvement in local government without the area councils. Difficult to make needs heard to the City Council. JR: Doing away with area councils would have significant negative impact. Some members have been on for 30 years. Lot of issues that NHAC gets involved with. TS: want to open this up—associations work hard too, have community input. Not making any decisions—just bring things forward.
Councilor Deb Crossley: Commend CC for how they’ve organized the discussion. Like that they take straw votes and move on. Hope to this completely before go back and revisit, because things are intricately tied together. Citizen participation is the core question here. How do we use the charter to encourage citizen input. Want to make sure that people have a voice. A lot of opportunity for people to speak to city council. How should the charter recognize and regulate area councils—need to ask why? What are the benefits to the city at large? If it’s going to be formalized, why should a resident of the city need to be a registered voter to participate what is going on in their neighborhood? Would there really be less overall involvement in the city? Does the notion of putting this in the charter…does it impact citizen involvement? Is there a burden on city resources? Is it reasonable? Should some number of neighborhoods have greater access?
Kathleen Hobson: a layer of government we don’t need; understand meant to encourage citizen participation. Were meant to be neutral and unbiased, but found that two paragraphs were missing in some area council documents about hearing from diversity in opinions; disallow any attempt to convey an “neighborhood consensus”—WAC has not been neutral, and it has been true since its inception. Started based on Engine 6 controversy. Most members on first council were against housing development. They are accorded special authority that they don’t deserve.
Chris Pitts: VP of Waban Improvement Society. Different kind of person who is interested in community building. Now is the most important time for area councils—see them in the “hot” spots for Newton. Development, schools and traffic. Disagrees with comments on Waban Area Council—doesn’t stop anyone who wants to speak in meetings. Area Councils have learned about topics related to housing, have been hearing from residents. System for a single citizen to come to Newton to raise a complaint is difficulty—area councils help people deal with that. Area Councils help City Councilors be very effective.
Sue Flicop: inequitable representation around the city due to Area Councils. They arose because of a failure of local government to make people feel they’ve been heard and responded to. The solution is not to add more area councils—just adding another layer of government. Taking away ward councilors but adding back area councils? How is this going to improve things? Read the Planning Department Report recently—staff in that department are demoralized and overworked. Without enough staff, difficult to respond to 24 councilors—now going to add Area Councilors with their own issues? That would continue the current problems we have.
Nathaniel Lichtin: To take away a choice that others have made reduced citizen engagement. Area councils are elected bodies and are transparent. If you don’t like what they do, the answer to that is elections. Allow participation throughout the meeting. Small vote numbers—aren’t elected by a large number of people—need to improve, not a reason to do away with—instead work to make more representative. Doing away with another point of contact—leave 13 people with responsibility to respond to the city. Worthy of having funds for projects—City Council, which represents all the city, would decide whether to fund.
September 28th is the next CC meeting, where Article 9 will be discussed.
Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop
The Charter Commission wants to hear from you! Let them know your thoughts on the City Council proposals.
Last spring, the Charter Commission unanimously supported (in a straw vote) a reduction in the size of the city council to 13 members (8 elected at large with a residency requirement (one per ward), and 5 at-large candidates who could be from anywhere in the city.) This past week, the Charter Commission revisited the topic and is now looking at another proposal that keeps the 8 councilors but changes the 5 at-large candidates to 4 or 5 candidates elected by district (larger than a ward, but smaller than the whole city.) This issue is still under consideration, and the Charter Commission wants to hear your thoughts on both proposals. Email them at charter email@example.com and it will reach all 9 commissioners.