Charter Commission Meeting 8-24-16

Charter Commission Meeting

August 24, 2016

Attending: Josh Krintzman (chair), Rhanna Kidwell (vice-chair), Bryan Barash, Jane Frantz, Anne Larner, Brooke Lipsitt, Karen Manning, and Chris Steele.

Not attending: Howard Haywood

Approval of Minutes:   July 12th minutes—approved 8-0

Public Comments:

Ernest Lowenstein: composition of City Council—rep from Worcester at earlier meeting said that one section of the city elected a dominant number of counselors because they were at-large. Nine people on commission were endorsed by LWVN as a slate.

Susan Flicop: LWVN did not endorse any candidates. All were given equal time and there was no LWVN slate.

Ernest Lowenstein: someone did and the current members were all on the slate.

Sally Lipshutz: NACs (neighborhood area councils) were not covered in the definition in the city charter in terms of liability coverage. On city council composition—position has evolved: attached to current system with 24 councilors. But…if number is to be made smaller, consider keeping 8 ward councilors; keep 8 at large city councilors with residency requirement—therefore having 16 councilors. City councilor leadership from 8 at-large; Article 9—expand rules enable growth of NAC to cover all of Newton. If NAC are primarily communication vehicles, then powers should reflect that.

Jack Pryor: echo Ernest and Sally on city council composition. Go from current state with 3 people represented per ward…could become out of skew by having at large councilors.

City Council Composition:

JK: (using powerpoint) 8 ward councilors and 16 at large; mentioned issues that have arisen; looked at 5 potential models with variations of number of ward, at-large councilors.

Issues:

  • size of council 24 to 13
  • Difficult to learn about candidates—reduce candidates
  • Length of city council meetings—reduce candidates
  • Confusion over election—simple method
  • Incumbency advantage—ward seat eliminated but term limits added

After discussion with public, heard concern about possible influence by one ward

  • Support to maintain majority at large
  • Reduction in size
  • Desire to hold individual accountable
  • Some concern about elimination in Ward councilors.
  • Support for citywide accountability for councilors

Maybe talk about at-large councilors, but by district (of which there are 4); districts are more difficult to establish

BB:   good starting place for discussion; intrigued by presentation; came into meeting thinking that it might not be wise to have a vote and to wait until fall, especially with something new to think through. Looking forward to discussion.

BL: was prepared to propose what Josh has just proposed; had other benefits—Brooke has been uncomfortable with the concept of 13; know that model city charter said there should be an odd number, but BL has not understood the rationale, since council needs a majority; only concern is what happens when council votes on its own leadership—council has revised its rules so it’s rather irrelevant.   New proposal means won’t “stack the deck” in terms of one interest group or another.

CS: glad starting conversation, but want time to get word out that commission is reviewing its decision; starting to think about a similar scenario; concept of officeholder accountability was weighing on him—with truly at-large, couldn’t truly challenge a particular person.

AL: has also been thinking of the same scenario; not ready to move away from the earlier vote, but feels important to create new option and leave it dynamic to get input and feedback; far less concerned about perception of accountability, but likes the notion of a small group that is truly at large—it gets more people running and more competition. It would lead to a more robust field; always a possibility you would get a clump—doubt get them all from one ward—voters are smart and issue would be brought up in an election; if something doesn’t work, the city can respond by ousting people—city responds quickly and firmly. Have had slates run, still do, and it usually starts with an opposition slate trying to oust existing elected officials. The slate wasn’t geographical, but was from a policy or issue perspective. That’s part of politics.

JF: number 12 works much better, since require a 2/3 majority for many votes; doesn’t feel comfortable with 13; noted concern about the group of 5 at-large—none resonate with Jane personally, but hears concern; doesn’t feel comfortable proposing one that has so much concern; in Maine, have a governor elected by a plurality and not a majority because of a large number of independents in state. Would feel more comfortable with a council where people are not elected by a plurality.

RK: two things important to her: downsizing and, after doing all the research, opportunity to add the at-large pool. 52 of 54 cities have at-large councilors. Newton and Barnstable have no truly at large candidates; has benefits—get the best people in the city no matter where they live; pool would be more accountable; get more competition as it becomes less personable. New scenario—all want the same thing—how to best serve the neighborhoods that are at risk of feeling disenfranchised. How would each scenario play out? In either, have one representative from ward. In district—may not have had an opponent; In at large, have best people citywide who have to answer to the whole city, not just one ward. Feels better served with latter scenario. Encountered very few people who are not willing to support semething along these lines.

BB: been considering whether pool or district scenario: like district model because have more regional balance, easier to target a specific person, majority vote. With pool, best competition, more competition, less personal as not running against a neighbor. Concerns about minority voices—point of view or regional. District addresses minority views based on geography. Pool works toward minority viewpoint on policy. Latter happens in other communities. Can give an outlet for a voice that haven’t heard yet.

KM: reactions are personal and subjective; wide range of reactions; commission can’t please everyone; can’t change the model and assume they will have board support; hope that over time people will see that group is conscientious in their decision-making. Speakers felt that system was fairly self-correcting. NO magic formula for widespread support.

BL: like the district approach—goes a small way to address concern about those unhappy with eliminating ward councilors. On the other hand, can be convinced to go with 4 at large. Feel more strongly about 12 v. 13 than about how find those other 4.

AL: gotten a small amount of feedback; need more from public; get more information out there and hear from a wide group of people. Want to talk more abut 12 v 13. Need more convincing about this importance.

BL: one of stated goals was to make the process simpler and easier to understand, to invite greater participation.   A number of things that Council does that by statute require 2/3 vote. People count vote on controversial topics…if need 15 2/3 votes, makes it harder to understand.

RK: to get a 2/3 majority of 12, need 8, with 13 need one more person.

BL: Why should we up the ante?

BB: 2/3 is how it is because the legislature wanted to make it hard to pass. Making it out of 13, it gets that much harder (.68 rounds to 1 person).

BL: If don’t get more than 50 percent, don’t win. Can’t come up with a scenario when having an uneven number is beneficial. Election of Council President is done by caucus.

AL: Many votes on SC where there is an even split—Mayor isn’t there for all votes. It’s not a problem.

RK: Address Mr. Lowenstein’s comments—gentlemen from Worcester said that some wards weren’t represented—district model. Newton would have at least one councilor per ward; other cities have only at large and don’t find it a problem. Comment about slates—when came to electing charter commission, a late was kind of useful—there were several, since many people were unknown and there was a large pool. Ton of name recognition in the first at-large election; Sometimes slates don’t work—can be problematic, so can’t see how they will play out. Have been meeting with “city leaders” and everyone has their own opinion—great way to be educated.

JF: concerned about less-involved residents and their understanding of the system. Don’t understand process when there is an issue of great concern to them—12 could be much clearer. Comment on disenfranchisement—taught at Burr, when many felt disenfranchised. See this as a real issue that need to address; they feel that they will never have someone in that pool of at-large councilors and have the same representation.

RK: No guarantee that second rep would be from your ward anyway—could be from the district but not from the ward.

JF: concerned about making a decision that may set the commission back.

BB: on majority with 12, may have 6-6, and that will drive the political process. Need to work to elect the 7th—use elections to address this. 7/12 would allow for more consensus. Also: what have proposed would be a significant improvement; new proposal –find unlikely that all 4 would come from one ward/district. Difference in policy outcomes might not be all that different.

KM: need to brainstorm how to get more input from a larger group

BL: doesn’t think can get a sense of where the community is; need to go with best judgement, explain it and sell it to the public; any time facing tough decision with a radically different and not-radically different choice, go with not-radically different because it is an easier “sell.” Already made a substantial change with a reduction in the size of city council—therefore, go with easier changes to ensure this change would pass. Look at the “endgame” and try to make the big changes as few as possible. Leans toward district, and not at-large.

AL: gut reaction is that they need to sketch out how use the rest of the time and see if can figure a time when substantially complete on straw decisions and have a “dog and pony” show around the city with publicity to try to get a larger amount of feedback. Maybe in January/February?

BB: people will look at this very big picture. Some of the other decisions—might not really enter into the picture, but might come down to a reduction in the size of council. Want to find the best charter for the city and not worry about each individual group.

KM: sees an opportunity to fix things that might have been broken and to take advantage of opportunities; no pleasing everybody; with Brian—build the best charter possible. Cynical about reaching out to people in the dead of winter.

AL: may not get a huge response, but have a responsibility to try more, even though it may fall flat.

RK: got 59 emails when first started this topic; 78% of emails were in favor, 17% had alternative proposal, others wanted to keep the size to 24. 50% of proposed charters pass; reasons they fail includes sometimes not broad support, strong minority report (5-4 vote)

JK: proposed a district model in effort to try to increase number of people who support the proposal; feels that people who support the current proposal will also support the district proposal.

Discussion: One meeting and one public hearing in September, one in October. Find a second date in October?

RK: radical v. less popular: if explain proposal in line with best practices, popular structure with other cities, then it won’t be seen as radical.

BL: not convinced that many people feel that things in this city are not working…where close division and can make the case for either one, go with the less radical change.

Public Comments:

Bryan: When talking about Article 11, talked about having some clarity about the process of public comments. Put together some new proposal in packet.

RK: Voted against it before because needed more work. Feels this does belong in the charter, even though don’t want to micromanage. Feel that public comment at a public meeting is a right that needs to be protected. In the current charter, not making it user friendly to citizens. Likes Bryan’s proposal and will support it.

BL: concept is fine. Would propose a modification…change second sentence: add a phrase about considering the convenience of the public. Trying to make sure people are conscious of the responsibility.

RK: interpretation could be done so that comment is at the end.

Discussion about how to include both…problem isn’t that there isn’t public comment—it’s more that it is at the end of the meeting.

BB: prefers beginning of meeting…otherwise too “squishy”

JK: problem is that there are a lot of different issues and behaviors; can’t legislate that behavior. Likes Brooke proposal.

BL: need to define public body

Motion (by Brooke): add to the already adopted language: All public bodies…at reasonable intervals, shall consider the convenience of the public in scheduling such public comment periods and provide notice of when such public comments will occur. Then last sentence—remove “unanticipated”

Voted 8-0

Process for Article 9:

About area councils, written in 1972, when there weren’t area councils. Language is unclear and needs a good solid review. Panel on September 14th with representation from area council and one village association. Agenda will include public comments. Process of developing guideline questions for panelists. JF: a lot of interesting ideas from around the country about setting up neighborhood councils and the issues they deal with. Need to add info on open meeting law and conflict of interest as well. Deliberations on September 28th.

Preliminary/Final Report: Rhanna, Karen, Jane and Josh will start a draft together to put together some materials.

New Business:

Bryan Barash: article in Newton TAB and Village 14 about salary discussion. Discussion is happening in the community.

Put compensation back on the agenda and then discuss whether to add to the charter.

Public Comment:

Sally Lipshutz: still waiting for answer to question about Area council….definition in Article 11 excludes it. Response: made a note to discuss this issue when discuss Article 9.

Ernest Lowenstein: would at large councilors run against each other or as a pool? Response: top 5 vote getters would be elected.

Discussion: any limit on size of pool? No, but haven’t discussed the issue of preliminary with regard to at-large candidates.

Kathleen Hobson: unclear why stepping back from vote on at-large councilors. Is there anything in the public records? Seems to her that they are imagining a bogeyman that is not there and that they are reacting to it. Fearing defeat more than concerned to craft the best possible size and composition package. Urge to go back to April discussion and re-listen to it. It was so impressive. Not all in agreement at beginning, but were at the end. No one was railroaded. It was an impressive meeting. Response: JF—felt that district councilors were intriguing to her and that both scenarios would serve the city well. Notion of district councilors seemed to be too far a step for city to take. Thought is was a valid way to compose the city council. Kathleen: why? Haven’t heard anything in the public record. It feels a little like a cabal—haven’t seen what is happening. Response: BL: gotten response on straw votes in public and private. Responding to conversations that they are hearing individually. Kathleen: what about the notion that 78% of emails were in favor of what they did. Then there are all the conversations going on in the grocery store.

Sue Flicop: I agree with Kathleen. Feels like stuff going on outside meetings. Response: AL: she didn’t know that this was going on tonight. It was organic. Not a bad thing—a natural thing from a group that is trying hard with limited resources to address complex issues. Organic process.

Jack Pryor: voting is much more local than national. At large candidates need to run citywide. Great that reconsidering this issue—it felt that the straw vote was sudden.

JF: most controversial vote, is right to revisit it.

Next meeting September 14th. Will plan another September meeting.

Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop.

7-12-16 Charter Commission Observer Notes

7-12-16 Charter Commission Meeting Observer Notes

Charter Commission Meeting

July 12, 2016

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

Approval of Minutes: Approval of May 11, 18, 25 and June 15 minutes (minor modifications)

Public Comments:

Earnest Lowenstein: Wants clarification on Article 11 General Provisions where it requires provision for public comment at reasonable intervals so he can oppose it.

Matt Hills: Supports the School Committee’s current 8-year term limit structure. There is no magic way to create competition and turnover. The current system gives infrequent strong spurts of competition in electoral races. It’s more difficult to get turnover if the list is longer. Good people step up when there’s an open seat. Stronger candidates don’t run against an incumbent.

Article 5: Financial Procedures—

BL: 5b: do we want that level of detail? Are we discouraging thinking of items not on that list?

AL: thinks is helpful and consistent

(Barash arrives at 7:15)

CS: doesn’t read as definitive, but as minimum threshold

BB: proposes changing “may” to “shall”

JK: thinks too detailed.

RK: likes list

BB: is anyone concerned that the city council won’t include these things?

JF: yes

Vote on shorter second sentence fails (JK, BL, BB—yes, CS-abstain)

Vote on longer sentence carries 8-0 (HH abstains)

Sec. 5b Capital Inventory and Capital Improvement Program:

Changed “may” to “Shall and “describe” to “establish” in the second sentence: “The city council shall, by ordinance, establish the requirements of the inventory, such as age, maintenance and repair history, remaining useful life and other features the city council deems appropriate.”

Straw Vote: 9-0

Article 6

BB & AL: Still have meetings to complete. Not ready to discuss.

HELD

Term Limits

JK provided everyone with a discussion guide that started with the commission’s goals

  • Greater public participation in government in Newton
  • Increased level of civic understanding
  • More effective and responsive government

The cc then addressed the following questions:

  • How does the concept of term limits comport or conflict with the above goals?
    1. What issues or problems will term limits solve or address?
    2. What are the downsides to term limits and what problems could they create?

RK: 15% turnover in any election of council, much less than ideal, declining marginal return on tenure, not getting greater participation. Wants systematic—limits for one/limits for all

BB: but not all about return on investment—it’s about who people like and want representing them.

AL: term limits on SC has meant greater turnover—about 30%. Been successful there. CC—seeing longer and longer tenure, lower turnover—15% there. Low rate of challengers. Fewer open seats—average 9.3%. Literature on term limits mostly about “turn the crooks out” That’s not how she sees Newton. Here it’s mostly about not making a career of public office and maximizing public involvement. Usually the mayor and cc have the same limits in other communities.

BL: agrees with goal of turnover. Not sure of the connection between term limits and turnover. We are seeing a dearth of people with the capacity to run for office—concerned that by adding term limits only going to discourage people from service.

KM: disagree. Many entrepreneurs with flexible schedules now. Streamlining the public process makes it more attractive. Can campaign more easily with social media and such. Power of incumbency is the problem. People wait for vacancies. SC shows how it can play out.

BB: reasons not to run against incumbents is they are neighbors. Haven’t seen seats go vacant in Newton.

BL: have had difficulty getting people to run.

CS: There are easy & difficult campaigns. Those looking to run wait for an easy election. Without limits, you don’t have that and might instead just run, rather than wait. My concerns are if you have a different vision, but won’t run for fear of alienating the current office holder—where’s the leadership? Term limits won’t guarantee good candidates will run.

JF: strongly supports term limits. TL help focus work because only have a set number of years to accomplish anything.

JK: thinks open seats are the best way to get a contested race

KM: few seats turn over via challenge.

(others recalled ½ of school committee being voted out in the 1970s because of hot issues)

JK summarized pros and cons of TL:

More open seats People wait to run
Shorter tenure Shorter tenure
Focus People see limit as their full term, rather than about accomplishing something
No lifetime careers in public office Change power relationship with staff
  Difficulty finding people to run

 

AL: ½ of city council has been in office for 10 years or more

BL: most other communities don’t term limit city council. Very few limit school committee. And other communities have contested elections all the time. It’s not a magic fix.

HH: Ward 3 has issues finding people to run

  • Should term limits for city council, school committee and mayor be interrelated/aligned or should they be addressed individually?
    1. What are the advantages/benefits of having an interrelated system of term limits for the city council, school committee and mayor?
    2. What are the disadvantages of same?

RK: create a power imbalance if council is limited and mayor not

Discussion of mayor’s role on SC and how that is different

HH: with a strong mayor system you inherently have imbalance power. TL would not fix that

BL: could exacerbate the imbalance. A lot of council’s work is built on relationships with staff and city departments. If frequent turnover, imbalance gets worse. Had a mayor for 24 years, who was challenged every time.

BB: Mayors can wait out council

JK: could be an issue of balance of power. Mayoral races get regular challengers, unlike council.

BB: keep in mind fresh ideas if tl mayor

JF: name recognition trumps all in mayoral races

AL: large cities with tl for mayors & councils tend to have the same length of tl. Most 8 or 12 years.

  1. If term limits are equitable—must they be equal?
  • Addressing the term limits as separate entities
    1. What are the tradeoffs/downsides to addressing the term limits for the three bodies as separate entities?
    2. What are the advantages/benefits of same?

KM: can be different. Easy to understand

JF: each role is so different, would want to assess differently.

BB: equal makes easier for voters to understand. Only reason for it

BL: think about tl timing. Mayors often come out of the council. Want to avoid a large number of tl out councilors at same time mayor is tl out. Turnover all at the same time feels peculiar

AL: in SC never lost whole body at same time. Had up to 6 SC turn over, but not all due to tl.

Collins: Most places start the clock at zero. Transitions are up to the charter

  • Term limits for mayor
  • TL for School Committee
  • TL for City Council

AL: 12-year limit is at the outer realm of other cities’ limits

HH If tl for mayor and not council will have council with more power

RK: favors 12 for council and mayor

JF: 12 for mayor fine. Third term is often the killer. Council 12 years gives enough time to dig into an issue and make progress. 12-14 not more. SC—the system works now. Talking about the system. Too much institutional knowledge—leaving out a large part of the elementary school population. Likes 8 years because many SC members do know the system going in. Get up to speed faster than the average councilor

BB: power associated with mayoral incumbency…

JK: concerns about tl mayor. Plenty of attention to the race now. Don’t have the same issue at council. Getting contested elections for mayor.

BL: we are here for two things:

  1. Address the questions put to us by the pubic
  2. Create internal logic and consistency/function to the charter

Concerned that system would enhance imbalance of power between mayor & council.

BB: agree. Best to TL both

Proposed: 12-12-12 or 12-12-8 (SC)

KM: 16?

RK: data on other cities—same limits

KM: too dramatic a change?

BL: the public message will be Term Limits for All. Thinks council of 13 will do the job (having more contested races). This is a huge change. TL to council or mayor is puzzling.

HH&BB: No TL for anyone or TL for everyone

VOTE: 12-12-12 limits, fails 3-5

16 year mayoral term limit: fails 4-4-1

Decide to vote SC and council first

In favor of 12-year term limits for City Council: Frantz, Manning, Larner, Kidwell, Haywood. Opposed: Barash, Lipsitt, Krintzman, Steele

 

JF: wants shorter TL for SC—innovation needs new ideas. Need elementary school representation—when those parents aren’t on the committee, these schools get left out of discussions.

AL: SC should reflect the community, not just the school population. 8 years is now not a problem. NO magic number

JF: cc&SC have different roles. We have never lacked community members on SC. Run into problems when the school community is not fully represented. 8 years has worked. Why change it?

KL: there was no push to change this.

VOTE on 12-year TL for SC, fails 2(Kidwell, Larner)-6-1 (Haywood)

In favor of 8-year term limits for School Committee: Frantz, Manning, Krintzman, Haywood, Barash.  Opposed: Kidwell, Larner, Lipsitt, Steele

In favor of 12-year term limits for mayor: Frantz, Manning, Barash, Larner, Kidwell. Opposed: Haywood, Lipsitt, Krintzman, Steele

BL: We’ve now had three 5-4 votes. Troubling because it doesn’t bode well for the charter.

JF: We’ve gotten the most flak for a 9-0 decision.

Vote on whole package—passes 5-4: Opposed: Lipsitt, Krintzman, Haywood, Steele

Final report

JK wanted volunteers to work over the summer

Preliminary report—usually just the charter because it’s published in the paper (expensive) supplementary materials can go on the web.

JK—wants an intro and wants materials summarized

RK: worried won’t finish on time—still have Article 6, Area Council discussion, composition of city council and two further articles. Fall is full of holidays

BL: august meeting?

Summer work: get notes and summaries together, explain process

RK: volunteers, but can’t do over the summer.

Agreement that need a separate list of recommendations on things not addressed in the charter. Report should be short & focused—a sales pitch for the charter.

KM leaves at 9:50

HH; Need to make the case for cutting the council to 13 members

Meeting adjourned at 10.

Submitted by Andreae Downs.

6-29-16 Charter Commission Meeting Observer Notes

Charter Commission Meeting

June 29, 2016

 

Attending: Josh Krintzman (Chair), Bryan Barash (late), Jane Frantz, Howard Haywood, Anne Larner, Brooke Lipsitt, Karen Manning

Not Attending: Rhanna Kidwell, Christopher Steele

Approval of Minutes: Approval of April 27th minutes

Public Comments:

Kathleen Hobson: applaud the work the CC is doing; support preliminary vote on size and composition of City Council—came after huge study and debate. Don’t start second-guessing yourselves. Work is grat and can sell it. Everett legislature recently shrank, and they are still doing a good job. Encourage the CC to keep going in the direction they have.

Phil Herr: Mayor’s newly released housing strategy—remarkable package of “stuff” that he hasn’t seen quite like it before. Package is not being put up for approval—it belongs to the Mayor. Is encouraging people to come along with ideas…will compare that package with comprehensive plan so see if things left out or in conflict. Found a lot of consistency so far—important to be aware of differences if they are there. There is value in that kind of checking—maybe take looking at the relationship between the two into consideration with Article 7.

Lois Levin: Phil Herr is saying that the work of the Charter Commission is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. Impressed with thoroughness and diligence of the Charter Commission—been in many different meetings at City Hall and they haven’t all been as thoughtful. Recommendations so far make a whole lot of sense and the majority will agree (despite a vocal minority.) Supportive of the CC efforts.

Ernest Lowenstein: speaking for the vocal minority: the size of the City Council is essentially settled because heard unanimity. Letter to the TAB sees comments that the Council is too big—24 is too many. Where is that written? No reasonable argument why a number has to be stated. The process of voting for 2 out of 4 is grotesque, considering staying with 24, but putting them one-on-one.

Article 7: Planning

Looking to make sure the language reflects the decisions have been made and that there is nothing unaddressed. It’s an opportunity to raise other questions and last minute thoughts.

KM: CC benefited from a panel of experts on May 4th, with input from experts in other municipalities and Phil Herr. Removed reference to special permits, since under MGL. Utility to the article for Newton, even though it is rare to see a planning statement in city charters. Support for the comprehensive plan in this article—backed up by experts. This is hopefully more streamlined than before.   Choice was to focus on structural components. Karen then led everyone through the important changes (see documents—discussion is below.)

7-2b: Add that Mayor can make minor modifications. Discussion: concern about the lack of definition. Who is to determine what is minor? Maybe approve without that word? Minor sends a signal to the Council that a modification can’t be major. Intent that it’s not a reworking of the Comprehensive Plan. What change triggers a hearing? What change doesn’t? Bigger issue was to insure that there was the ability to modify the plan without redoing the whole thing. Whatever language is used would be up for interpretation. Why would you avoid having a public hearing on any change? Realistically, want some way to modify to keep it up-to-date? How about take out “minor” and provide for a public hearing for any modification? Doesn’t matter if it is a minor or a major change…How about “there shall be a public hearing” and leave it to the City Council to determine if one is needed? Or have a hearing, and if no one shows up, everyone goes home. That is a less efficient way…should it be mandated in the charter?

Proposal: remove the word “minor” and don’t include public hearings because the Council is likely to ask for one if the change is controversial. Approved 6-0.

NOTE: Word “shall” in the last sentence means that the Council is required to take some action, even if it is to remove the changes.

Also agreement to change the “and” in the first sentence to “or” to read “within 2 years of the swearing in of a new mayor or not less frequently than every 8 years….”

7-3: Nothing mandates that the Planning Board needs to report back to the City Council in a timely fashion. The planning board can effectively veto something before the City Council by holding up its report. Language currently requires recommendation of the planning board. State statute has some specific limits on time—that’s why the CC added info on Section 5 of Chapter 40A.

(Straw vote) Motion to approve Article 7: Vote 7-0 to approve.

Article 5: Financial Procedures

Looking to make sure the language reflects the decisions have been made and that there is nothing unaddressed. It’s an opportunity to raise other questions and last minute thoughts.

AL walked the CC through the article (see document for changes). Discussion is below.

Section 5-4a: last sentence. Seemed appropriate to add description about what things are included in the capital budget—this is an option to the more general statement about inventory. Discussion: in favor of being specific so that it is easier to understand the document; others feel less specific is better, but not strongly. Sense of group is to add the more specific language.

Does the CC want to talk about the rationale, rather than the specific content, for the CIP or the City Budget? Is a sentence at the beginning of 5-4a talking about stewardship of city’s assets. Switch 5-4b to 5-4a after the first sentence. Then the rest of 5-4a moves to 5-4b.

Need to include risk analysis in CIP. Purpose is to keep the good practices that the City does, but not to be so detailed as to not allow any changes/improvements. Could go with “prescribed by ordinance” language used in other articles. Is there language that is more general?

Result:

  • Restructuring Article 5-4 (see above)
  • Switch the last sentence of 5-4a to more specific language
  • Add “and rationale” to contents of CIP

Straw vote next meeting.

Article 11 (originally 11-8): Designer Review Committee

AL: Increased substantially the number of building projects and the projection is that the capital program will be active. Big part of that is the school building projects, especially with MSBA and their review of building decisions. Designer Review was set up by ordinance.

Issues:

  1. Capacity: so many project and schedules are determined by state (for school projects)—difficult to gather a large group of professionals who volunteer their time when there are no set meeting times (scheduled driven by projects). Difficult to get a robust membership to be available.
  2. Changing scene: School building process means they meet in conjunction with the school building committees—not meeting just as a professional group. Therefore a lot of changes in how the designer review committee operates.

Therefore needs to be a review of the ordinances to give the group more flexibility to deal with capacity issues and with the changing scene of how they interact with school building committees. Extremely important committee and function—needs clarity and capacity to function properly.

Also, technically, there is a requirement that any project that requires an architect is under the aegis of the Design Review Committee. Needs to be updated—some small project could benefit, some others with architects isn’t necessarily. Requires that the Council have some requirements to revise the Design Review and Designer Selection Committees. Charter Commission could be helpful to push a review of the ordinances to make these bodies as effective and helpful as can be and to deal with the capacity issues.

Discussion: What are the real roles and authority of these bodies? Do they belong in the charter? Details should not be in the charter—all that is in there is that they should exist. Why, specifically, these committees? For a sense of transparency and public process. [From Collins Center: Other communities don’t have anything like this in their charters.] The current language does not reflect current industry practice. AL is suggesting that there be a periodic review of these specific ordinances.

What does the CC do with this section? Remove it? The ordinance still exists and the committee will still exist. Are the problems charter-related? Does the current language give it enough flexibility? Why not generalize it a bit more? Problems are not about language, but about using best practices—put recommendations in the supplemental report of findings (NOT the charter). It exists in the ordinances.

Should it be required in the charter to address these issues, or should the language be entirely removed?

Motion is to remove the language in the city charter: what effect does this have on the ordinances without the mandate in the charter? Still needs the cooperation of the Mayor to work. This could be the anchor to have these committees—eliminating the requirements leaves a “floating” ordinance without an anchor. These committees at the local level are pretty rare. If have regulatory authority, should be anchored in charter. Motion withdrawn.

Want an ordinance that allows the City council to establish the committees and their functions by ordinance. Desire to make it more modern and to fit into the building review. Current charter language is vague.

Will revisit this in the fall when there is more information.

City Council Compensation:

BB led the discussion: In some cases, it’s spelled out (usually when change the form of government); on other cases, it isn’t. See chart used in discussion. Compensation is not competitive with other communities and should rise. Can address this in the supplemental report or in the charter. Could set base level and then anything beyond set by ordinance, or could be in the supplemental report.

Discussion: Since already making many changes, would be a mistake to increase salaries in the charter. Considering the average income, the salaries are quite low. Does this play into the type of people who run? Do we get the best talent? Should recommend a salary increase (especially since the overall compensation could stay the same with fewer councilors) in the supplemental report? Could recommend a review of salaries at certain intervals. What is the point of that, if the council is uncomfortable voting for its own raise?

Will develop recommendations in the report, and not in the charter. Language to be developed.

Summer Work: Not meeting as frequently over the summer, but work should continue. Think about next year, in particular about how they will explain the process, work and substance of the commission and the language to use. Have article leaders compile some materials and review them.

Collins Center: other communities haven’t put together much at this point. Preliminary report comes in the newspaper, take the temperature of the response, and then put together the final report (and then work on a “marketing campaign”). There might be “friends of the charter” campaign groups registered, lawn signs, etc.

Pull together what they have so far and think about the preliminary report.   Think about ways of analyzing or highlighting things.

Still need to have the term limits discussion (July 12th).

Area Councils—work on that as a committee, since there is nothing statewide as an example.

Can work on items not appropriate for the charter, but should be presented to the public.

Preview of Term Limits Discussion:

Will send out a recommended structure for the conversation before the meeting.

Next meeting: July 12th, 7 p.m.

Charter Commission Observer Notes 6-15-16

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.

Articles 5:

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.

Discussion:

  • 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

  1. 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.

Discussion:

  • 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.
  1. 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.

Other Changes/Additions:

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.”

Discussion:

  • 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

Term Limits:

  • 12-year term limits for SC; take broader look at term limits.
  • Discussion:
    • 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.
      • Discussion:
        • 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

Charter Commission Observer Notes 6-1-16

Charter Commission Public Hearing

June 1, 2016

Attendees: Josh Krintzman (Chair), Rhanna Kidwell (Vice-Chair), Bryan Barash, Jane Frantz, Anne Larner, Karen Manning, Chris Steele

Absent: Howard Haywood (illness), Brooke Lipsitt

Public Comment on Articles 2, 3 and 4:

Councilor Marc Laredo: Thinks City Council functions quite well. Debatable as to whether or not is could be smaller. Not necessarily in favor of reducing size, but understands and appreciates the arguments. Quite disappointed and concerned with methodology to elect City Councilors. No problem with 1 councilor from each ward—like the benefits from representing a particular area of the city, but with a citywide perspective. Troubled by manner of choosing 5 at-large councilors elected at large. Worst thing in current system is that have to choose 17 members of City Council every election this plan reduces that by 4 to 13. Currently have two at-large—far better if someone did not like Marc’s performance to be able to vote me up or down in a one-to-one election. Current system doesn’t do that, the proposed system make it worse. Proposed: 16 councilors, 8 up for election each time—easy choices for voter—up or down 8 people. Other alternative: 8 at large and 4 district councilors—combine two wards together, get sharply reduced number of elected officials. Make it simpler for the voters—proposal doesn’t do that. Encourages slates, discourages people from running. Allows those who aren’t doing a great job but have name recognition to keep on serving. Each member of City Council should stand on their own two feet—people should vote up or down.

Councilor Ruthanne Fuller: agree with Councilor Laredo 100%. Interested in Boston Globe article this past Sunday. Goals that she thinks they should be trying to achieve: effectiveness, representation and responsiveness. Efficiency way at the bottom. Comfortable with reduced size of the City Council. Notes that trying to get 24 people up to speed on a controversial issue is very difficulty—leads to slow, incremental change. But…there is less representation and fewer people for residents to turn to. Agrees with balance that Charter Commission is striking. Comfortable with the switch from Ward Councilors to Ward At-Large Councilors. Residency requirement is very real—very aware of what is going on in ward, but is looking city-wide since elected at large. Uncomfortable with 5 councilors at-large. Accountability goes away completely. Things possibility of geographic clustering of those 5 councilors is very real and could be very damaging. Agrees with Marc Laredo’s options.

Term limits: think that hurting effectiveness of City Council if go with 12 years for term limits. Will remove really good leaders—at seven years, feels she is beginning to be a really good city councilor. Council is not driven by seniority—chairmanships are not reliant on that. No corruption. Removing power from the voters—terms limits are called elections.

Goal of increasing the number of contested elections: urge the Charter Commission to be clear as to why they want more contested elections. Do you think it’s not representative? Do you think they are not getting fresh blood? Reducing it to 13 might do that on its own. People scared off? Really hard to run at-large…keep by ward. Think that creates more accountability? Thinks this decreased accountability by having term limits—people just serve out 12 years. Really understand what they are trying to accomplish and use the appropriate tool. If keep term limits, make it longer…just getting good at the job.

Salle Lipshutz: words from Marjorie Arons Baron on her blog about eliminating ward councilors. Far better to have 8 ward councilors and 5 elected at large. Provides connectivity to ward that is neighborhood responsiveness and highlights accountability. This is bound to be diluted by having people elected at large.

Shawn Fitzgibbons: continue to consider the idea of enshrining board principals in our city beyond the state constitution—i.e. basic rights and protections for those who lack them now, environmental issues, rights of workers to bargain collectively. They are often discussed at state and national level—is there a way to enshrine these in our city?

Support for initial idea of reducing the size of the city council. Perhaps larger body engages the electorate, but can confuse voters with so many to vote for. Strongly support of a city-focused government and elected body—meaning that all at-large officials. No concern whatsoever that having no ward-only city councilors will impact representation. Perhaps it will bring more to bear on local issues. Currently both at-large and ward councilors are very dedicated to their constituents and their ward. Nervous about term limits but understand reasoning for that. Want experienced officials who do good job and contribute to Newton.

Ernest Lowenstein: issue of reduction and how is the linchpin of how work will stand or fall in 2017. Cites comments in Boston Globe article by Josh Krintzman—critiques do not stand up under critical review. Length of meetings is set by councilors; comparison of size of body with other communities in MA is irrelevant. Others can do as they wish. Ward councilors are the ones that people go to first before at-large councilors. Critiques do not meet the goals set by the commission. No evidence that fewer names on ballot would increase participation and civic understanding. Smaller number of councilors be more responsive to voters—why should this be different from today. What does the straw vote mean? Will there be another vote on this specific question or on the whole body of changes at the end?

Elaine Rush Arruda: opposed to changes in the City Council, particularly in losing the Ward Councilors. Change is akin for US Senators to be voted on by entire country: requires much more money to run; five with no residency restrictions means that 6 can come from one village. Akin to voting in 46 senators from one state. Need to ensure that everyone has a fair chance to hold a seat.

Alec Calderoni: opposition to extension of SC terms to 12 years. As a parent, teacher and resident, need SC members who have kids in schools. As a resident want to vote for candidates who spend time in the schools—please keep term limits to 8 years.

Councilor Amy Sangiolo: Not here to comment on findings; concerned about understanding how you arrived at these decisions—what research used, what communication with residents in city, who is the custodian of all the emails? Who are you hearing from, what comments are they submitting? Reasoning behind term limits and why decided to reduce the size of the City Council.

Priscilla Leith: Against reduction is size of the City Council. Leave 16, with staggered terms—8 ward and 8 at-large. Agrees in terms limits of 12 years. About executive—would add that Mayor has the power to hire and fire department heads, but City Council can call for an explanation of dismissals. Few people attend commission meetings—news coverage is rather spotty. Commission should be paying attention to a recent TAB editorial on the value of Ward Councilor. Using the 311 situation is time consuming and doesn’t result in any feedback. Not all residents have access to computers and access to internet so ward councilors are valuable. Efficiency is not necessarily the best goal. Haggling within the committees works well—have better decisions.

Nathaniel Wicken: agree with almost everything the commission has done. Address two things: the size of the Board—don’t need 24, but perhaps 13 is too small. Perhaps two per ward? Often times don’t get along with one person who represents you, but having a second person would be beneficial. Also twelve year terms limits seems a little short—16 seems better to account for ramp-up time. Significant benefit to keeping people around for extended time. Did a good job on the School Committee. Great job overall.

Next meeting June 15, 2016.

Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop

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