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 Main focus is on policy and process—even though not stated, this is the law unless repealed.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.


  • 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.


  • 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.”


  • 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

Charter Commission Update

The Charter Commission recently sent an email to all those on its list summarizing the proposed changes so far (see below).  To comment directly to the Charter Commission, please email

Proposed Revisions to Article 2 (Legislative):

  • There shall be a city council of 13 members.
  • Eight councilors will be known as councilors-by-ward, 1 from each of the city’s 8 wards, elected by voters city-wide.
  • Five councilors will be known as councilors at-large. They can live anywhere in the city and will be elected by voters city-wide.
  • A candidate for the office of councilor-by-ward shall be a resident of the ward from which the candidate seeks election as of July 1 (prior to an election).
  • A candidate for the office of councilor at-large shall be a resident of the city as of July 1 (prior to an election).
  • Councilors may serve for 6 consecutive terms (term limit of twelve consecutive years).

Proposed Revisions to Article 3 (Executive):

  • The mayor shall appoint a chief administrative officer to coordinate and direct the operations of the various departments and functions of municipal government.
  • City employees may serve on advisory boards and commissions, so long as they do not comprise more than 1/3 of the full membership of the board or commission.
  • If a vacancy in the office of the mayor occurs during the last 9 months of the term for which the mayor was elected, the president of the city council shall serve as the acting mayor until the next election for mayor is held.

Proposed Revisions to Article 4 (School Committee):

  • A candidate for the School Committee shall be a resident of the ward from which the candidate seeks election as of July 1 (prior to an election).
  • An up-to-date record of policies adopted by the school committee shall be made electronically available to the public.
  • School Committee members may serve for 6 consecutive terms (term limit of twelve consecutive years).

Charter Commission Observer Notes 5-18-16

Charter Commission Meeting

May 18, 2016

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

Absent: Bryan Barash, Howard Haywood (illness)

NOTE: Howard was in the hospital and is recovering.

Approval of May 4th minutes: approved unanimously

Public Comments:

Shaul Berechtman: talked about an ombudsman for School Committee at other CC meetings. Reiterate his comments. At SC meeting, Judy Levin-Charns made a comment about 35 students who have gone through legal process with the School Department. No mechanism to resolve dispute within the school system—need to give up or have a legal battle. Bad for all involved; can put an ombudsman to resolve many of these issues instead of other ways. Keep in mind that School Committee members do not work on specific constituent issues.

Article III Discussion:

City Manager v. Mayor: Concern expressed in past about not looking more deeply at City Manager v. Mayor. Will do that now. Thanks to consultant for research; be sure to look at two chapters from book on the topic. While City Manager might provide better administrative capacity, the Mayor provides a “moral” leader perspective. Table created to show strength and weaknesses of each option.

Better define the role of Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) so can specify a role for these administrative functions. Set of models that we could adopt here, all from out of state.

AL: am proponent of City Manager form of government. Thinks that somewhere Newton is a place that might engage a city manager—would need to go outside MA to get good examples and testimony. Main positive is that it strengthens a council because it has a sharing of some executive powers when done well. Believes that council always feels the “underdog” until it has a better balance with the “implementer.” This form of government has a lot of potential. Wouldn’t support it right now because the City isn’t in a place to accept it. Would take 4-5 years of community conversations to do research and engage people. Important to downsize the City Council first, but this is unlikely to pass. A “non starter” right now. Many ways that cities try to deal with “moral leadership” role.

JF: Why did those communities change from the City Manager form of government? [Marilyn: They wanted the relationship with the Mayor. ] The Mayor form with the CAO is most intriguing to her. Important of the Mayor speaking to the values in the community.

BL: Intrigued by Council Manager form. It totally upends the system we have—makes a council that is “all powerful.” But no chance that this would be voted in. Wasn’t a reason to put forward, but agree about the “moral leadership” role for a Mayor (stated by Ruth Balser at earlier hearing.) Am disinclined to mandate a CAO-COO role in the charter. It is possible in the future that an elected Mayor may have an administrative background. That person might want to hire a strong policy person instead of a strong administrator—hesitant to put more instruction into how the Mayor’s office is run. Can be different for different Mayors. Would like to give more support to the Council for a better balance—things like allowing them to hire outside counsel.

RK: Concur with idea of this giving more power to the Council. Since giving a new format to the Council, feels that this would be too much. Wouldn’t vote for a charter that changed both at the same time. Want to take a serious look at in the future.

KM: Now more than ever alternatives to how a moral leader can emerge from a group. Important for voters to elect a Mayor. Community is not educated to this model very well. Agree with not proposing too much change.

BL: Motion that stick with strong Mayor form of government. CS seconded.

JK recommended staying with strong Mayor form previously. Like having a person directly accountable to the people.

Vote: unanimous 7-0-0

Discussion of CAO: potential language for CAO role: sheet with three options, though there are also others.

AL: Likes option 2; fine with “shall” rather than “may”. Board description gives a lot of flexibility to Mayor. Thinks CAO should be at the pleasure of the Mayor and not be up to the Council. Option 1 is far too prescriptive.

BL: Option 2 is the best of the three. But does it need to be there? Is it up to the Mayor to organize the function of the executive office or not? Having trouble describing any function within the Mayor’s office. Would say “may” if anything.

[Bryan Barash joined the meeting.]

KM: Big fan of guiding values in the charter—statement of direction or encouragement. Maybe more general statement about hiring to effectively support the role of ….

JF: Like that idea. Takes away title, which will become dated.

JK: Under Article 3.2a—working?

RK; Likes option 2 and the word “shall.” Safeguard that we do get people in appropriate qualifications. Have a strong Mayor, but need support for staff. Follows a corporate model with the CEO having responsibility with visibility, constituent work, etc. A mayor with a managerial background will still need support administratively with all the other roles he/she must take.

BB:   Concern that structure is flexible so that Mayor can choose to have one person report to him or many.

BL: proposed a more general statement with wider roles—not so specific. Wants maximum flexibility and leave room for mayoral discretion.

RK: Current language doesn’t have any teeth is not a fan.

[Discussion continues on whether to specify role, whether it is a values statement, whether it has “teeth” and some proposed wordsmithing.]

KM: Instead of CAO, how about using the work “professional” so that the term doesn’t become outdated and stresses the qualifications of the person.

BL: proposed option 2 but: take out advice and consent of council and changed CAO to professional staff.

BB: isn’t this then a fuzzy line with Council needing to approve department heads?

[Collins Center: this is Article III, only deals with Mayor}

RK: What is the value of having this in the charter at all? Not adding any value this way if “may” hire staff. Wants to see “shall”

AL Motion: insert option 2 into Article III-2 as a new subsection (b), with a “shall.” RK seconded. Discussion: sort of unenforceable, problem to hire “solely”—take it out? Friendly amendment: on the basis of strong administrative and executive qualifications. Vote: 6-2-0

RK Motion to strike the last sentence of Article III-2a. JF seconded. Withdrawn.

BB: Change last line of Article II-2a: Mayor may appoint staff….CS seconded. Vote 8-0-0.

BL: Section 3-3: separate department heads from heads of Boards and Commissions. Add that City employee may not be chair of commission. Should City Councilors allowed to be on B & C? [That’s in Article II.]

Proposal to limit city employees to not more than 1/3 of B & C unless other mandated by ordinance or statute.  Sense of group to make changes in the draft version.

AL: Defining Treasurer: should it be in there? Did the CC propose to take out too much? [Collins Center: this appointment was the only one that required an affirmative vote of the Council.]

–after much discussion, decided to leave it out. Maybe discuss again during the finance discussion.

BB: organization of Article III-3: way it reads feels awkward. Should start with how to hire all staff, then go into special staff—switch a and b now.

AL: this goes in a hierarchy—first section is about Mayor, then the rest is about the department head hires.

BL: separate Boards and Commissions from the other part.

JK: Temporary appointments: Council has been approving them each time.

AL: Section III-7 (a) 3: remove requirement? Is this petty?

BB: But have problem with empty seats on Boards and Commissions.

KM: Maybe move to transition section?

BL: Is too proscriptive. Need to deal with this as part of recommendations and not in charter.

JK: Twice a year might be too much, but once a year would be good. It would highlight the issue and maybe encourage people to join.

BL: It’s in the wrong place. Should be with the five-year report of Boards and Commissions.

JK: Is a duty of the Mayor, so likes it here.

[Collins Center: how about putting it in the earlier paragraph about B&C?]

Motion: AL: remove Section III-7 (a) 3, JF seconded. 4-4-0 Motion fails.

BB: Motion that change language to be annual and that consider placing it somewhere else. BL seconded. Passed 7-1-0.

Article III-10: should the CC specify a number of days?

AL: remembering Mayor Cohen’s comments about this in the past, need to keep some flexibility. If something happens over summer, don’t want election at that point.

Discussion: possibility for pressure by acting Mayor, etc. to find date for election most beneficial to them. So add in a limited number of days, no preliminaries, etc. 120 days? 90 days seems too short. Seem to land on 120 days.

Article III-8: some wordsmithing.

Article IV: Revisit Term Limits for School Committee

AL did research—hopes to be finished by Friday. Since data is almost ready for everyone, maybe revisit after June 1st public hearing. Already have a straw vote on term limits—instead of revising several times, wait and hear from others. After discussion and a vote, decided to discuss after June 1st public hearing.

Article II:

Made two changes:

Filling of vacancies: change made for councilor at large vacancies

Legal Counsel to the Council: specifies money available for legal advice it feels it needs

Straw Vote: 8-0-0

Number of Wards: does anyone want to revisit the number of wards in the city? Useful issue but don’t have any data. Worthy of study…

Issues: related to configuration of City Council…have fewer wards. People aren’t necessarily attached to their wards. Has been very constraining in discussions. Open to ideas, but too many changes could increase the likelihood that the charter vote will go down. Put off for now…maybe get comments on June 1st.

Article 1:

Straw Vote (preamble and Article 1, not the definitions): 8-0-0

Public Comment:

Lisle Baker: public hearing will have a lot of comment about the big questions. 1. Small technical issues still worthy. Example: what happens when vacancy in Mayor’s office…some value in a general provision that City Council can provide for those gaps by ordinance. 2. Reporting function built into the charter—difference between reporting and docketing an item for discussion by the City Council. Stuff that needs to be in the charter v. stuff that ordinances can do. 3. District model has some benefits that may be elusive in the discussion—somewhat distanced from a problem in their voting since may not affect their constituents directly. There is a division of labor between ward aldermen and at large, as well. 4. Independent advice for City Council is useful, but problem in trying to specify a value. Look at charter maintenance. It’s a local constitution rather than a document to solve all problems.

Charter Commission Meeting Observer Notes 5-11-16

Charter Commission Meeting
May 11, 2016

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

Public Comment:

Sallee Lipshutz: Please consider other ways of revising the Council; e.g. stagger elections to allow keeping more yet still reduce # on ballot at a time.  Really would prefer to keep ward aldermen; could perhaps let them elect council leadership from the at-large members.

Ted Hess-Mahan: With respect to dealing with section on elections, please invite city elections director, David Olson, to talk about how the department functions: would be helpful to public and commission.  He does such a good job of managing so many things, including elections – would be very helpful.

Discussion of Article 2

Krintzman and Kidwell: Discussion of what terminology to use re council members in general and to distinguish at-large from those who must live in a ward. Clearer to say “councilor by ward” rather than “ward councilor.” Barash: doesn’t matter too much; people who care will know; will eventually all come to be called ward councilors, might as well just use that. Larner: thinks will not feel good to those who feel the loss of current “ward alderman.” Lipsett: tried to come up with something, but couldn’t; worried public will think they’re trying to fool them if use “ward councilors” – could do “councilors” and “councilors at-large.” Krintzman: worried it sounds wordy, e.g. on signs. Notes that when School Committee candidates run, they hesitate to add ward to signs. For now, go with councilor-by-ward and councilor-at-large. Discussion of hyphens… Keep ‘em all…

Kidwell: first paragraph, revise “shall be domiciled” language – Krinzman took language from School Committee section. Kidwell: may need to revise that too. Lipsett: if use “voters at large” will be confusing; use “voters of the city.” Try “voters throughout the city…”

“There shall be a city council of 13 … eight of these, known as councilors by ward, shall be domiciled in the ward from which elected but shall be nominated and elected by voters throughout the city.”

Lipsett: do we need to define “resident of the ward” ? Agreement that is defined already (where/how?)

Lipsett: Section 2.1: why B and C separate? All one, or break into 2 more equal chunks – not just one sentence. Also needs title (Barash). Krintzman: actually move 2nd to last from B out of that paragraph too – will adjust.

2.5: Kidwell – A – vacancy: removal “from residency in the city,” not “from city.”

2.6c: Threshold – used to be 7 (of 24) – if 13, what? 4 is same ratio. Is that the right ratio? Discussion, but agreement 4 is fine. No particular reason to make easier or harder. Very rare that it happens.

2.9.c: same deal – needs to be 3; 2 is too few. Lipsett: calling special meeting should be higher threshold. Charters come up frequently. Multi-person charters tend to be used when a close vote is at hand and need people who aren’t there, etc. Not the same. Three is enough — but shouldn’t be less.

Re emergency – want to keep to real emergencies. Tricky to find right numbers – 2/3 to pass; how many to object/prevent? Lipsett: all it does is delay till next meeting. Frantz: has there ever been a situation? Lipsett: can’t think of one. Barash: why not make a majority? (to charter). Definition of emergency is what mayor declares and what council votes to agree – has to be an emergency preamble vote first. Four proposed as number who must object; accepted.

Lipsett, back to 2.7 – what does “by ballot or otherwise” mean – can’t we just remove? Just use elect? Also, “by ballot” appears later. Krintzman: does by ballot mean “on the record”? Hess-Mahan: there are 2 ways the Council votes: by voice vote, no specific records; or by roll call – records who voted how. Agrees, “by ballot” = roll call vote. Agreed to leave in at bottom re: removal.

2.8 – Lipsett – A – also remove “by ballot or otherwise.” C: “shall by ordinance establish salary schedule” – council shouldn’t be establishing salary by ordinance! Hess-Mahan confirms that that is how it happens now…. Lipsett: but certainly didn’t do other positions. Hess-Mahan – vote on it as part of budget, is a line item – not an ordinance. Lipsett – seems very strange that we need an ordinance. Obviously, don’t want mayor to be able to underfund, that’s why it’s there. Also wants legal staff to be separate, since rarely staff, more ad hoc.  Add (d) “shall be empowered to hire independent legal counsel. The annual budget shall include a line item to cover such expenses at no less than 25% of a rolling average of the prior 3 years’ legal department’s outside legal expense.” Everybody agrees that’s a good suggestion/general direction for a formula. Need to check numbers to confirm 25% is the right amount – see what those numbers actually are. Maybe “legal and/or technical.” But legal is exempted from hiring rules (?) – maybe leave just as legal, if needed, that counsel could hire technical help.

2.4 – Manning – Discussion of prohibitions – revisit later; info to come from Collins Center.

Recall provision – different article, discuss later.

Revisit filling of vacancies – articles 2 & 4

Was a request to revisit the topic. Lipsett: 2.5(b): worried about political implications of permissive vs prescriptive language (“may call” vs “shall call”) around the issue of special elections to fill a vacancy in final 9 months of a term – notes there have been times when council has been closely and bitterly divided, e.g. no president for 2 months. Taken care of by board’s rules. But possibility of existence of a split council, and then someone then leaves or dies, seems to allow for situation of real deadlock, and having no strict rule about whether seat is or isn’t filled could be destructive. Kidwell agrees: should not be at the option of the council. Frantz also prefers clarity. No ones cares particularly if election is required or not in those 9 months – probably not, seems unnecessary and wasteful – but want certainty. Manning asks if, given a smaller body, we should rethink the whole question of how to fill vacancies, e.g. use runner-up from last election. Kidwell points out was discussed; generally used when large group all run at large. If just 2 people and one loses, doesn’t really work as well. Manning: just wondering if more discussion warranted. Lipsett: trying to keep as touchstone that the goal is to keep things as clear to public as possible; whatever solution, the choice of successor should be same for councilor-at-large and councilor-by-ward. Kidwell: supports for using runner up method for at-large. Krintzman: only 13 seats, all important. Feels really wrong to prohibit an election. Does want to leave in wiggle room. Lipsett: why so critical that that 13th seat filled? Krintzman: if don’t need 13th, why have 13 on council? Barash: seems perfectly likely that something controversial could come up; and now, only need 8 (2/3) instead of 9 votes… Larner: election requires 64 days (120 if preliminaries). So if vacancy in April, 2 months later – in end, is just a few months. Krintzman: just feels wrong to prohibit filling! Manning: what other methods? Krintzman: election; appointment (by council); leave vacant; runner up. Larner points out that power of incumbency, even for tiny amount of time, makes appointment by council a no-go. Barash: would be OK if that person was prohibited from running subsequently. Lipsett: Motion: Move that we state that if vacancy occurs in final 9 months, that seat shall remain vacant until the results of regular election are certified, and the winner shall be sworn in immediately. Kidwell reminds of history – 1971 charter was to prevent council choosing own members. Another factor against special elections is the tiny turnout. Krintzman reiterates dislike of this motion. Vote: 8-1. Seat will remain vacant for last 9 months.

Concludes Article 2 discussion.

Article 1: Barash and Lipsett.

Lipsett: Long, complicated article… ha ha. Only have 1 proposed change. Should we have a preamble to define the values of the city? Barash: many newer charters have one now, and they are recommended by the model city charter. We went whole-hog, perhaps overboard, but tried to be very inclusive. Idea was that we could more easily subtract things, but put it all in to start.

Larner: intent excellent, but result too long. 2nd paragraph in particular a mouthful. Better to summarize, use broader language, get out of the weeds. Steele: 1st paragraph sounds like a mission statement; trying to carry too much weight. Also too vague – how disagree, or adopt?

General agreement – simplify, make shorter.

Frantz – last 3 lines could become very dated. Lipsett: yes, talked about that.

Kidwell – likes first paragraph, except “intent to re-form” part – but likes.

Manning: recalls former mayor David Cohen’s remarks re exhortative language… This might be more appropriate to be used by a mayor, on a website etc. – but could be viewed as political, either on purpose or accidently – better to aim for more neutrality. Ie, be less specific. Already a lot of change. Already political.

Steele: by putting forth a comprehensive list, are we saying we commit ONLY to these, and to the exclusion of others?

Frantz: paragraph 2 also repeats paragraph 1 in parts and ways… Need to be succinct, and broad.

Krintzman: so, keep first paragraph, add something about being welcoming to all people. General agreement.

Barash: re: transparency and public records – might want to look at that somewhere, if not here.

Krintzman: move definitions section into Art 1? Lipsett: not sure it belongs. Maybe needs its own article? General agreement. Do Preamble, Definitions, Article 1… ?

Add “ethical, transparent” in front of “responsive”

Add “welcoming to all people … promote equality and respect…” sentence at end.

1-2. what does prudential mean? Remove it?

1-5. Don’t restrict ourselves unnecessarily – say except for limitations, instead of according to requirements, of state gov.

Article 11

Boards and commissions

11.4. Steele and Krintzman: proposed language. Special committee to recodify ordinances, and to evaluate all boards and recommend continuation or not every 5 years.

Lipsett: modify language to move word “recommendation” further in sentence.

Kidwell: should the recodification be a separate group from the boards and commissions group?

Lipsett: true, recodification is very different. Tends to be very technical exercise, vs. boards – judgment exercise.

Barash: do we really need a commission on commissions? Could we say “mayor shall do…”? Marilyn Contreas: really want a public process – not just the mayor. Lipsett: the boards often become lobbying groups – if mayor not sympathetic might just remove inconvenient ones.


Multiple ways boards and commissions are peopled. This commission doesn’t have any powers, just reviews and recommends.

Workload not that heavy after first go-round – the first time will be a big cleaning house from current 90, but once slimmed down, not a huge job.

Still, very different jobs (recodification vs: reviewing the boards/commissions), diff qualifications, skills required. Make a separate commission for reviewing boards?

Solve by saying the committees can be, but don’t have to be, the same.

Language requiring public comment. Most like option 1; 2 offers opportunity for trouble. Lipsett: doesn’t want to be so prescriptive – can’t see how it’s possible to put forth a “noticed time.” Is there a realistic way to address the issue of someone having to wait unexpectedly and unnecessarily too long? Long discussion. Add notion of “reasonableness,” rather than “best efforts”? Manning: is it more about communications, procedure – committees need to do a better job. Not necessarily a charter issue. Haywood: not fair to committees, commissions: they need to get their jobs done. Doesn’t want to constrain them. Barash: not saying they have to have public comment, but that if there is comment, should do best to make amenable. Frantz: concerned about adding things we can’t enforce, dilutes the whole charter. Barash: actually, quite enforceable. MOTION: use “reasonable” version of language. Broken into 2 motions – 2 halves. First half only passed: Will hold public comment at reasonable intervals.

Respectfully submitted by Lisa Mirabile

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