Charter Commission Meeting 2-15-17

Charter Commission Meeting

February 15, 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:  approved with minor changes

Public Comments:

Nathaniel Lichten:  First, in Article 11-2c, add “coerce” to unduly influence.  Second, in Article 9-1, doesn’t like suggested language—has the potential of narrowing scope of what area councils can do to citizen engagement, but do have a broader role.  Article is very broad and vague—asks that it be narrowed.  Third, in Section 9-6, agree that first sentence is really confusing—get rid of two “providing for”—read recommended language.

Edie Wayne:  Against reducing the counselors to 12 members.  Will be representing 90,000 residents—can’t imagine having that word doubled.  Now have more diversity and opinions.  Want to keep ward counselors…get into the minutae of each village, know better that if represented entire city.  Don’t know the reason for term limits—if not doing a good job, won’t be re-elected.

Sallee Lipshutz:  speaking for herself.  Comment on draft report language with suggested language.  In charter, misleading terms of counselors—councilors by ward is wrong, recommend counselors at large by ward residency.  Recommends 8 at-large by ward and 8 by the ward—people would vote for only 9 counselors.  Commented on term limits—arbitrary for counselors and Mayor.  Term limits for school committee are less arbitrary.  Article 9-1 purpose:  NACs are the only officially represented elected people with the purpose of citizen engagement who follow open meeting law.

Draft of Revised Charter:  Went through proposed changes as marked in the document prepared for the meeting.  Most received clear consent of the commission, with the following discussions on only a few.

  • Section 9-1: BL:  language implies that Neighborhood Area Councils are THE way to engage the community.  Discussion had included neighborhood associations and other groups not codified in charter.  Would prefer to rewrite language as suggested in document—takes away the exclusive-sounding language.  CS:  want to call out the unusual nature of NACs…discuss comments made in public comment section of the evening.  Reluctant to add more language, but did want to address it.  JF:  how would “citizen engagement” restrict NACs?  Have unanimous consent to change it to Brooke’s suggestion.
  • Still same section—just specify types of citizen engagement. CS:  Doesn’t limit their current activities, but did want to talk about it and be sure everyone felt the same way.  AL:  thinks this is a broad term, not meant to be used to limit NACs.  BB:  sees current language as very board, gives a huge amount of latitude.  JF:  worked with Karen on this section—wanted to use the most inclusive language.  All in agreement that language is fine and won’t expand that further.
  • Section 9-6: what about specifying open meeting law to apply to NACs?  BL:  then need to apply it to other bodies as well…why just NAC?  Decision is to leave as is no mention of open meeting law, but with the current suggestion in the draft.
  • Section 10-2b and f: should be the same—election commissioners or city clerk?   Should be the same body referred to.  Change both to election commissioners?  This is a legal question—as a practical matter, it’ the City Clerk’s office.  But…the election commission has a role.  Tanya researched as the meeting continued—should be Election Commission.
  • Section 10-3 was shown to David Olson, City Clerk, for comments. Some changes recommended, but agreed to by Charter Commission.
  • Section 11-2c: based on public comment to add “coerce” to the sentence.  BL:  no way that a member of a multiple body could coerce hiring or firing, so sees this an unnecessary; BB:    Made a motion to add language, seconded by CS.  Discussion:  AL:  what is the problem with adding the word…is there a consequence?  BL:  don’t believe that this can happen—how do you coerce?  Can unduly influence but can’t coerce someone to hire or fire someone.  BB:  can argue that in some sister cities, it can and did happen.  Vote:  7-2.  Passed.
  • Section 11-12d: concern that some bodies aren’t fully seated; Collins Center recommends that if concerned if worried about having quorum, keep language in there.  Otherwise, take out.  CS:  value question that if have language, bodies can continue to operate even without full membership.  BB:  does also say that they need majority of the full body to exercise powers—mainly dealing with advisory role, which is a more limited question.  Is comfortable with keeping language.  BL:  gave a hypothetical example using planning board and then with a group interacting with the city’s attorneys.  Keep language in twice.  No objections.

AL:  motion to accept the whole charter as corrected tonight.  BB seconded.

Discussion:

  • BL: things in charter that make her unhappy.  Believes ballot box is the best term limits.  Doesn’t believe NAC should be enshrined in the charter just because they are in the last one.  However, on balance, this proposal represents a significant improvement to our current government structure, will facilitate participation in the community and will hopefully receive passes.  Will vote to support it.
  • BB: thanks to whole commission—appreciated everyone’s input and worked well together.  Agrees with Brooke that is not what he would have written himself, but will vote yet.
  • HH: has been a real privilege, struggled to come back after his illness and time missed.  Felt that hadn’t make a significant contribution, but felt he had a responsibility to continue.  Amazed that all have done miraculous work and is proud to have been a part of the process. Wish he could have been more productive. Will support, but doesn’t agree with everything.  Agrees with process and is a better charter and will move the city forward.
  • JF: reiterate comments, been an honor and a pleasure.  What struck her is that all have a part that they are not in agreement with, but see the totality as a significant improvement and look at that as the most important element.  Will vote yes.

VOTE:  9-0!! Unanimous!

Thanks to Marilyn and Tanya, without whom they CC wouldn’t have gotten this far.

Draft of Report:  Jane presented comments in her memo about comments that she heard.  Lots of discussion and wordsmithing, some toning-down of the language, some clarification.

Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop, who left at 10pm with wordsmithing and rewriting still continuing.

Charter Commission Meeting 2-1-17

Charter Commission Meeting

February 1, 2017

Attending:  Josh Krintzman (Chair), Jane Frantz, Howard Haywood, Anne Larner, Karen Manning, Chris Steele

Tardy:  Rhanna Kidwell (Vice Chair, 7:25 pm)), Bryan Barash (7:10 pm)

Approval of January 25th Minutes:  Approved with minor changes.

Public Comments: 

Nancy Tenor:  Last night CC members presented to Ward 6 Newton Dems.  Appreciates time and good intentions.  Felt intention was less than convincing…would vote no if voted today.  First, proposed term limits—already have them in elections.  Why force a capable and skilled office holder out?  Second, proposed 12-member council—why shrink representation to 12 people—they are twice as far from electorate.  Not be able to represent diversity in city.  Third, city-wide councilors—subsumed to the tyranny of the majority.  Wants to vote for own councilor in own ward and connect with person as they go door-to-door.  Wide ranging discussion is needed—waste vs. deliberation?

Howard Shrut:  resident in Newton for 69 years, rather apolitical; shrinking the size of the Board of Aldermen rubs him the wrong way.  Having ward councilors is more personal—Newton is made up of neighborhoods—gives you a sense of closeness of who’s going to represent you.  Smaller is a coterie and less democratic body.  Would vote for old method rather than the new.

Sallee Lipshutz:  where was presentation made and who made it?  Josh:  Newton Dems—4 members there?  Not in violation of open meeting, weren’t deliberating.  Discussion about whether or not or how to make meetings public.

Nathaniel Lichten:  Article 2—transition provisions.  Thanks for taking comments seriously.  Still have a couple of concerns.  Looked up influence on state government website—saw only one reference to lobbyists.  Dictionary definition—quoted.  In the absence of some more specific interpretation—means to effect or sway or impel to action.  This would include public comment, meetings behind the scenes, a parent talking to a principal.  Be very, very careful about restricting the rights of people who volunteer for the city who are acting beyond the scope of their volunteer duties.  Many work on very narrow issues—i.e. Angino Farm volunteer should not be barred from contacting a principal or superintendent since it’s not their role.

George Mansfield:  attended the Ward 6 meeting last night.  Appreciated presentation and discussion.  His position on article 2 has not changed, and neither has the Charter Commission.  Thinks it would be unfortunate if the recommendations and the whole of the charter were carried on the vote by recommendnations in Article 2, specifically changes to Ward Councilors.  He’s played that role—it has a real place in the city and has for 150 years in the culture, structure and governing of the city.  Doesn’t believe that comments will change recommendation, but does have to say that he will find himself in a position of opposing the charter vote in November.  When this comes up for a vote at a regular city election, there are going to be seats for the next term not affected by the charter (which will take effect in 2020).  Already there is evidence that people who hold Ward Councilor seats will run at large to avoid having seat taken away.  Can’t see any reason that someone would run for Ward Councilor—only hold seat for two years.  Different from running for Charter Commission, which is limited in scope.  He wouldn’t run for seat that lasts only two years on City Council.  Also:  looked at public presentation on website—slide that says the benefits of reducing the size of the City Council—1st benefit is that reduces the size of the Board.  Thinks should not have that there.  He feels that is likely to reduce transparency, accountability and responsiveness.  Would be much lower with a smaller board.

Jen Abbot:  Personally feel that reducing the size of the Board is a great benefit and would increase responsiveness and accountability.  Would increase some competition.  If larger council were more responsive, then we would see them all over the state.  Newton is an outlier.  Strongly in support of work and seems really well-researched.  Other great benefits.  Not being able to vote for all that represent her in a place the size of Newton is very troubling.  Every voter will have a voice in choosing.

Review Clean Draft of Charter: 

Discussion on the following topics:

  • What does full council mean? What about quorum? Majority and two-thirds are based on the number then in office.
  • Section 11-2b—what mean by “influence?” What is undue influence and what is proper advocacy?  Tonya from Collins Center presented more specific language from Oakland, CA.  Discussion about whether part b clarifies or makes things more vague.  Discussion of whether or not there is value in keeping this section in the charter—reaffirm concerns about conflict of interest and gives a value statement?    Motion to remove 11-2b fails.  Motion that tweaks the proposal—motion fails with a 4-4 vote.  More tweaking, some removing of language…all trying to get to a clear language on what influence should not be allowed, but not to replicate what is in the state law.  New motion with slightly different language:  passed 5-3.
  • Section 11-2c—add “appointed” office?
  • Section 10-3—change another ”may” to “shall”. Some concern over Section 10-3 a and b: concern about confusion from the language in “a.”  Concern in “b” from David Olson about petitions.  Members will look at it before vote in 2 weeks.
  • Section 3-10 on permanent vacancy in the office of Mayor—add a line that/ succession order could be determined by ordinance? Wasn’t resolved from last meeting.  Add language that if the President of the Council is unwilling or unable to serve, then the Vice-President, and if not, the Council will choose among its members.  Motion made and passed.
  • Section 5-2—just confirming changes, which are slightly different from notes. Need to keep in “all funds subject to appropriation.”
  • Section 12-7m—recommending insertion of “Council” to resolutions. No preference…
  • Back to Section 11-2c—what about if someone advocated for removal of someone from a position? Add “unduly?”  yes…

Read it carefully and will go through again in 2 weeks.

Review Draft of Preliminary Report: 

New version adds rationale for major changes, specifically the changes to the City Council and to term limits.  Changes came rather late this week, so go through tonight with general requests.  The members went through the document sentence-by-sentence, making some changes in preparation to review the final draft in two weeks.

Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop (who left at 9:45 pm with the review still going on.)

 

Charter Commission Meeting 1-25-17

Charter Commission Meeting

January 25, 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:  Minutes from January 11th approved unanimously.

Public Comments:

Mark Alpert:  speaking against proposal to eliminate Ward Councilors; is anti-democratic proposal, goes against things have studied about our country; will have no one representing the neighborhoods—may live there, but won’t have to go door-to-door to find out about special needs and how to represent them; could have the city taken over by an advertising campaign funded by a single person or company to get eight people elected and get control over city; some rich real estate developer must have invented this; suspects that some real estate developers are behind this—what if some rich person in Chestnut Hill gets a slate elected—who will listen to people in other parts of the city?  Doesn’t know if anyone on the Charter Commission is a real estate developer—can’t imagine they are not if supporting this—how much easier to get something like Austin Street passed; allows some right-wing group to get elected, or some left-wing group; nothing that anyone can do about it; [interruption here about comments being personal; Howard wants on the public record that these comments are offensive; conversation gets quite heated]  3 arguments:  reducing the size of the city council could be done differently; this portion of it could sink the whole project—organized efforts to block it.

Sally Lipshutz:  speak on behalf of the Waban Area Council—voted to speak out as a council on two important issues.  1.  Support of retention of ward councilors; 2.  Inclusion of language in transition article on complete functioning of Area Council until new ordinances are drafted.  Wants to read into the record from the Newton Upper Falls Area Council:  supports the same thing.

Sally (now speaking for herself):  deep idealogical differences with the proposed charter revisions.  Process if open an non-confusing; asks for revision in draft letter addressing the major changes (and her she gives specific language).  Feels that some language obfuscates the meaning intentionally and wants to keep it open.  Would like to see it on page 1

Joy Huber:  Newtonville Area Council:  supports the same things as Waban Area Council.  Concerned that could take up to two years to get new ordinance and need to know what they are doing in the meantime.

Lynn Weissberg:  finds the comments of the first speaker about the committee being associated with developers is inappropriate.  Heard a well-reasoned argument about reducing the size of the city council.  Feels that the new proposal is more democratically elected—that way every voter will have an opportunity to vote for every single member of that 12-member council.

Kathleen Hobson:  echo was Lynn said, but express gratitude for the work that you’ve done. The level of intelligence and conscientiousness seen when working through these articles—haven’t seen work like this in city hall.  Doesn’t agree with everything proposed, but has seen them arrived at in a well-reasoned way.  Thank you very much.

Fran Godine:  commend the charter commission for the thoughtful, transparent process.  Urges them to hold firm for the good of the citizens of Newton.

Nathanial Lichten:  opposes the charter but thanks them for their hard work.  The Newton Highlands Area Council oppose removing the Ward Councilors and support the same things as the Waban Area Council.  In the provision on ethics, prohibit members of multi-member boards from attempting to sway those in City Hall on an individual level—should have the same opportunity to have their voices heard as regular citizens.  Hopes that will reconsider that.  This excludes constituent services by City Councilors.

Don Ross:  not in favor of proposals, particularly because of his support for Area Councils.  Want to raise the point that area councils have been doing a good job and “they’re not broke” so why change it.  Important, especially if ward councilors are going to be removed.  Does support keeping them, too.  Ward councilor issue will be an issue that will cause people to vote not.

Nancy Zollers:  Waban Area Council does not represent her point of view.  Used to read all the research—impressive and overwhelming. Know that come to decisions with a lot of background material—grateful that they are doing all this work.  Happy with where you ended up.

Next public hearing March 15, 2017.

Draft of Revised Charter:  Going through the draft and making revisions.  Topics include:  defining an emergency; idea of city officer—defined in state law; moving definitions to a separate part of or after the preamble; whether or not to add a definition of “ad hoc” committee; how to clarify the conflict of interest clause; some wordsmithing, clarifications and reorganizations.

This led to a discussion on the conflicts of interest clause to clarify the meaning.  They specified what was meant by actions that lead to a conflict of interest by different groups (elected officials v. members of Boards and Commissions, for example.)  A new draft will be available for the next meeting.

Draft of Report:  Should the report be persuasive, educational, or provide a rationale?  It can do all three—by providing a rationale and educating people, that will hopefully persuade people to support it.  It is up to a campaign to provide the persuasion.  The CC provides the education and rationale upon which the campaign will be built.  The commission split up the work to re-draft or create parts of the report and the final draft of the charter.

Timeline: 

Meeting next Wednesday, February 1.  Then February 15th for next meeting.  Will try to work out a final draft next week and then vote on February 15th.

Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop.

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