Charter Commission Meeting 11-30-16

Newton Charter Commission Meeting

November 30, 2016

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

Approval of Minutes:  November 16, 2016 minutes–review of a vote on recall provision for minutes; approved as amended.

Public Comment:  

Ernest Lowenstein:  question about handout:  Section 6.1–reorganization plans by Mayor.  Does the reorg plan require City Council approval? [Yes was the answer.]  It doesn’t say so in the handout.  [Josh:  this handout is to aid in the discussion of “city agency.”]

Term Limits:  Handout in material explains current charter provisions as well as options.  

AL had circulated an article on term limits done by the Charter Agency for the City of New York;

CS:  found it very interesting.  When term limited office, those term limited (observed by the article) tend not to focus strictly on responsibilities of current office, but do work toward the next office they might run for.  

BB:  relying on state data for local information.  This is different if thinking of staying in the city since SC voted citywide–unless the idea is to think about state office.  

AL:  In NYC, because of the size, it was reasonable to use the state data.  It was worth providing food for thought.  What hit her the hardest was that political scientists have found when looking at state data that the relative power between a legislative body and a Mayor can be affected by term limits if have the same term limits.  Strong Mayor has full staff, lots of appointments and far more access to expertise than the legislative body has.  Then the legislative body is contained by term limits, it loses one of the smaller power it has by institutional memory.  The power balance is affect.

BL:  What she saw was related to area councils, which the CC has chosen to leave them in place–same token, where term limits exist, it becomes self perpetuating and it is almost impossible to do away with them.  Think that need to be very careful about imposing them, because it would be very hard to do away with them.  Their very existance in School Committee opens up the discussion.  Urges caution.

BB:  flip side is that having term limits, most people are fine with them.  They seem to be relatively popular  Vote in NYC to remove them that failed.

RK:  saw it positive that it was not overly parochial–in response to Chris’ comments.

CS:  agree is retaining a Ward Councilor situation, but CC is not.

RK:  doesn’t mean that people would think about being a state legislator just because of term limits.  

JF:  Example of moving from SC to City Council–not a power differential there.  Doesn’t see people looking to state office.  Article said that term limits are very popular among constituents.  

BL:  anti-government positions are popular.  Up to CC to determine what power government has and what the balance of power is.  Haven’t further empowered the City Council v. the Mayor.

KM:  that speaks strongly against Option C, where no limit on Mayor, but limit on City Council.  Remembered an idea about having longer term limits for the legislative branch than the Mayor–as brought up in the article.  Like a 12-year term limit for the Mayor.

JK:  What do we gain by term limits?  One reason is to encourage greater turnover–has worked well for school committee.  Recommendation on reducing size of City Council will do a lot to increase turnover.  Might have already addressed that with size of council.  Sees idea of creating equitability between Mayor and City Council.

BB: while consensus about 8 years for SC.  Is bothered that City Council has access to benefits that SC members can’t get.

BL:  on turnover question–memory is that without term limits, the general turnover in sister city councils is about 25%.  Remembers Rhanna thought ⅓ was a good target.  BL is inclined that may already have solve the problem by changing the size.  Might not need the extra control.

BL:  never met a SC member who did not feel that having term limits on SC and not on anyone else was a strange system.  All felt that 8 years was doable–didn’t mean they loved it or thought it was fair.  If move toward no limits on others, can’t keep that perception that 8 years for SC is fine.  

KM:  remembers that Brooke felt term limits should work as a system–all or nothing.  Would she feel comfortable?

BL:  Prefers that not have term limits on anyone.  Can understand inclination to keep term limits.  Lots of SC who leave before term limits.  Would prefer consistency, but would understand if CC felt that couldn’t undo the term limits on the SC.

JF:  important to consider each separately, given that work separately, have different responsibilities.  Been through the SC term limits a number of times–have a school system of 2000 people overseen by 8 people.  Very large parent population needs to feel that there is some buy-in–people they can see on regular basis.  Important to have history, representation of all levels in the schools.  RE:  City Council, can imagine a longer term limit, especially if it balances the power between the legislative and executive branch.

HH: Mixed feelings about this.  Original charter–term limits were imposed for personal reasons–someone was on “too long.”  If purely that feel some people have served too long, then should have term limits on CC.  Felt that someone had too much influence–why wouldn’t this be the same argument for CC term limits?  Confused about this issue–not sure that original reason was enough to arrive at that decision.  If going to do something like this, need to have strong argument as to why term limits would work.  SC term limits hasn’t been a disaster.

BB:  Shouldn’t think of comments from SC member as representative of all SC members.

JF:  concerned about school system.  Think that 8 year term limits work for school system.  Thinks about how the council serves the city–there is not a magic number for term limits.  SC is just a different animal–people who served on it previously would like the limit longer, but the current members say 8 years is fine.  Should not change it because of the pension dichotomy–not a good reason.  Would be fearful someone would stay on just to get the benefit–isn’t good for school system.

JK:  current situation, SC members aren’t eligible for pension opportunities.

RK:  term limits take power away from the voters.  Feels that in reality, the power of incumbency takes power away from voters to a greater extent.  Gets angry when people talk about ballot box imposing term limits–can’t do when someone doesn’t have an opponent.  Especially at local level, power of incumbency is staggering.  When choose to run, set up for a lifetime of discomfort with some neighbors.  Strongest opinion is about the Mayor–every leader has strengths and weaknesses, but over time weaknesses take their toll.  Never thought that it would be a good thing for a president to be able to serve more than 8 years.

BL:  want to respond to argument about incumbency.  No question that incumbents have an advantage.  But if that is one that we don’t want to live with, the logical extension is that no one should be re-elected.  Everyone should be one-term.  But there is a learning curve.  Everything the CC is doing is a balancing act; is the CC willing to say that someone doing a wonderful job is not eligible to run again?  That seems anti-democratic.  Doesn’t disagree about power of incumbency; doesn’t think that that is purely negative.  

JF:  talk a bit more about the Mayor.  More conflicted about that than the other position.  What are people thinking?

JK:  thinks that there is a power and advantage of incumbency.  That power diminishes with the amount of attention paid to the office–people are away of the job the person is doing.  It’s difficult on a large city council–incumbency advantage is very high.  Thinks it’s less so with the Mayor, because people are very aware–good or bad.  Does take the point that after a certain amount of time, people should leave.  Not sure what that time limit is.  Is a certain logic to have term limits on all offices–doesn’t need to be equal.  Can see logic to wanting to put a higher limit on Mayor, but give the City Council at least as much time to serve.

BB:  term limits is about consolidation of power, so is most important in the Mayor, who has the most ability to control power.  Power includes convincing City Council, encouraging others not to run, etc.  Weigh this and the fact that the executive has quicker power to make vision come true.  Hard to argue that 12 years isn’t long enough to see out a Mayor’s vision.  Is more comfortable with this term limit–more than the others.  

HH:  no president has seen their vision in 8 years…nothing to do with being president.  Had to do with the country.  Look at the history of Newton–other than Mayor Mann, who won by a tiny amount in his first election.  Mayor Cohen was term-limited by his vision–the high school.  Nobody sees their vision in 8 years–vision should be something you are always striving for.  Don’t think term limits has anything to do with it, but instead with what we think our government should be.  

AL:  motion to have no term limits on any office (Option d).  Brooke seconded.  

JF:  disaster for school system.  School are different from city hall–21 buildings working autonomously, overseen by large staff.  SC acts as a board–different from City Council, which provides constituent services.  Experience in other communities without term limits was a disaster.  People stayed way too long, accumulated too much power,  and got involved in the day-to-day management.  

BL:  there were times since the current charter when SC members were much more involved in the operations of the school department.  Over time, the SC has become much more focused on policy and giving guidance and direction to the superintendent, and operating as a Board of Directors.  Two different styles have happened with the existing system–so not the term limits that makes the different, but instead the culture of the body.

RK:  reminds everyone that talking 12 or 16 year term limits with not a lifetime limit–can take time off and run again.  Not a big limit–not denying people an opportunity to serve.  Doesn’t support no term limits because think need something to put a little more forced turnover.  

JF:  there have been individual members who have meddled and have enjoyed position on SC.  Finds this worrisome–affects quality of what happens in school, morale.  Important that SC negotiates contracts–when doesn’t go well, affects morale in school. Parents need to feel represented.  Could have SC with no members who are current parents.  

VOTE on motion:  4 in favor, 5 against.

BL:  motion to keep the current situation with no term limits on CC, Mayor, and 8 years on SC.  Seconded.

VOTE on motion: 4 in favor, 5 against.

AL:  motion that 8 year term limit for SC, 12 year for CC and 8 year for Mayor.  No second.

JF:  that motion would be an option that could support if were 2 terms or 10 years for Mayor (if came in mid-term)

BB:  when say terms, mean terms that were elected.

AL:  motion 8 years on SC and Mayor, 12 on City Council.  Seconded.

VOTE:  3 in favor, 6 against.

JK:  motion 8 years on SC, 16 on City Council, 12 on Mayor–option C with 12 year limit on Mayor; seconded.

JF:  always felt that longer term limits for City Council made good sense and could support.  

KM:  agrees with that, but felt some persuasive arguments for longer terms for City Council.  Tricky to introduce new scenario, but is comfortable with it.

VOTE:  2 in favor, 7 against.

JK:  if not agreement, then have the status quo–12 for Mayor and CC, and 8 for SC.

JK:  Also mention that Area Councils don’t have term limits.

BB:  motion to stick with current recommendation; seconded.

BL:  remember that at the time took the original vote, had 5-4 vote a couple of times.  She said that if cannot find something that can really agree on, we are probably making a mistake.  Will have to justify change to the current system to the public as part of responsibility in selling proposed charter.  If so divided about what the right change is, are putting selves in position about promoting produce.

RK:  did not discuss scenario blocks at that time; spoke on office by office basis.  Didn’t want to do term limits on CC when wasn’t sure about Mayor.  For 7 members, it was about which scenario, though 2 are against term limits.  

BL:  is a real concern.

BB:  agree, want more than 5-4 votes.  Made the motion now to see if split, people fallen off or if less divided.

JF:  spent a lot of time thinking about it, but public isn’t thinking about it.  People seem fine to let CC decide–more focused on other issue.  This hasn’t generated the kind of interest in the community that had expected.

BB:  sense is that imposing term limits gets a positive response, but that specific number is not identified.  More of a problem to NOT have term limits.

JF:  think haven’t heard because did take a straw vote on some term limits.  Struggling with the right number.  Has been a non-issue for the community.

KM:  two points–is the opportunity to correct what happened the last time. Is philosophically for term limits.  Is wondering if anyone sees Option A as a compromise?  That might satisfy a broader range of CC members.  

AL:  just makes the SC stand out like a sore thumb, like a second-class office.  Talk about the balance of power for negotiating with other parts of government.

JF:  Mayor does sit on SC as ex officio member and has more consistent contact.  Sees that as mitigating that.

BB:  seems to exacerbates it.  Then the Mayor has so much more knowledge than other members.

HH:  if look at total body of charter, the one recommendation has been about reducing the size of the Board of Aldermen.  With Brooke on the idea of passing the charter.  Going to have one major change and maybe wait on term limits.  Put into documents for charter review–that reconsider term limits at that time.  Might be stressing this too far, when the CC can’t even come to agreement on whether they are really good.  Everyone agrees that 8 years for SC seems to be working.  Now talking about something that hasn’t been done.  Thinks won’t see Mayors in long-term–new generation where people won’t stay in office so long. Maybe this isn’t the right time.

RK:  feels that big backers are extremely excited about term limits.  Gets the impression that 12 years is too long.  In a Charter Review, can’t do something like term limits–need a whole new Charter Commission unless City Council would impose limits on itself.

BB:  agrees, but thinks that will have more support by including term limits.  Come back fundamentally to 12 members, 12 year term limits, having a certain number drop off each time, allow more room for high quality people, with strong ideas and more competitive races.  Fundamentally thinks will work really well.

BL:  agrees that new structure in place will make for more competitive races, new faces every two years and a better quality of candidates.  Also true without term limits.  Keeps having a problem trying to find what they are solving by term limits.  Those on SC are the starting point for the discussion–they are an artifact from the last charter.  Collins Center sayd that this is a very rare thing in MA.  Term limits doesn’t mean the best SC.

JF:  remembers someone who made a public comment who said that term limits helped him focus his time.

KM:  doesn’t agree with Brooke about school committee–that they could just go on and on without term limits.  Have a changing climate and evolving problems that are unexpected.  Have a group that is well established, is unlikely someone will challenge them.  Now that two seats are open, have an extremely competitive race.  Attracting important candidates.  Need to have opportunity to have new voices.

AL:  read other studies; found that term limits tend to decrease competition because people wait for the open seat.  Different atmosphere about challenging someone if want change.  Wondered if people interested of term limits on SC and Mayor and none on City Council.

BB:  not where he would like to go.  Term limits are there so no one gets stuck there and that should apply across the Board.

RK:  no ideal scenario.  Feels that SC and City Council have equal term limits, with Mayor having one term shorter.  But feels that 8 years on Mayor is too short, and 16 years for the others is too long.

AL:  problem with straw vote (which supported reluctantly) was started to be concerned about having City Council and Mayor at the same level.  Research shows a lot about balance of power.  

RK:  how about 12 for Mayor and 14 for City Council–is that enough to make a difference?

JF:  starting to agree with Howard about just going around with numbers.  Is reluctant to settle on this today.

JK:  running out of time on the calendar.

RK:  would just stick with vote already taken.

CS:  Calls the vote.

VOTE (on current recommendation):  4 in favor, 5 opposed.

BB:  doesn’t feel comfortable with keeping the straw vote.

JK:  a lot of good points tonight.  Point about parity between SC and City Council–doesn’t have to be equal but need to have both or none.  Doesn’t feel the Mayor term limits are as needed.  Wrestling with power imbalance, Mayor limit should be shorter than City Council.  Feels 8 years is too short for the Mayor.  Proposed option C, but support wasn’t there.  Could increase SC term limits.

RK:  does anyone support 8 years for Mayor and why?

AL:  8-12 is the range and 8 seems doable.  Looks at current Mayor and thinks back about where he was when he came in and what has been done in 7 years.  He’s really got quite a few things that he can take credit for–school buildings, capital improvement planning, etc.  Major leaps forward in his vision.  That says to Anne that you can do a lot in eight years if focused and have people and support in community.

BL:  not disagreeing with Anne, but can do a lot in 8 years if everyone knows you’re not going to leave.  Do have lame duck phenomenon in years 5, 6, 7 when know that can’t run again.  That’s a concern.

BB:  as opposed to other levels of government, the person is a strong Mayor. Has more power if there is a problem in last term.  Think lame duck has more influence at the local level.

JF:  agrees.  At the local level, third term can be problematic for Mayor and community–earn friends and enemies at the same time.

HH:  Where is the evidence in favor of term limits?  We’re just talking about it because it’s there.  What has been done wrong?  What could convince him that term limits would solve?

BB:  can’t point to a specific issue.  Can point to SC…

HH: not talking about SC–what about those without term limits?  No one has convinced him that having term limits would have better government.

RK:  feels that data Anne presented showed that average turnover has steadily declined over 60 years to an unhealthy low level.  Prefers ⅓ new energy and ⅔ institutional knowledge.  Down to 20% here in Newton.  

JK:  if at-large pool works as supposed to, will have ⅓ challenged every 2 years.

HH:  public cares if City runs well. What is the solid argument in favor of term limits?

RK:  talking about potentially 12 year limits, which is average right now, meaning that many are over 20 years (3) and a few more over 16 years.

BL: talking about ⅛–doesn’t seem to her like too many who stay too long.  Seems like an overreaction to a few people who have been on too long.  May not agree on individual positions, but there hasn’t been any harm done.  To invent a system that isn’t obvious on the face of it, can’t come to a strong agreement, trying to deal with something very broad and not clear that this is a good solution.  

AL:  read from various sources that around 70% of national voting population supports term limits.  It is something that people like–doesn’t mean that should do it, but is perception that is a positive thing.

CS:  that doesn’t make it a good policy idea; fact that currently see tenure with current structure doesn’t mean that we will see that under a new structure.  Don’t have a consensus of the group to propose a huge change and put it in front of the populace.  

JF:  have difficulty with numbers, but not with general idea.

BL:  had 4-5 vote, with 4 people voting for no term limits.  That’s split.

BB:  some people feel new system consolidates power. Segment of population feels that going to one without term limits further consolidates power.  

BL:  if have come up with new model becuase feel that it won’t consolidate power and will encourage turnover–go out and make that case.  Feels that have come to a really nice model…can go out and sell to public.  Of course people have concerns about the reduction…but the CC has to recommend a system that will work–not to respond to polls.  This is a defensive position.

BB:  doesn’t see it that way.  Can sell that no one will be on for more than a certain amount of time.  Has a hard time why it’s of value to have someone on the City Council for a long time.

HH:  already making a change by reducing the size of the Board.  Has it happened with the new system?

BB:  we don’t know.

KM:  14% turnover shows it isn’t working well.  

JF:  We have data–it’s not about an individual person and what they have done.  It’s about a structure that is changing.  

HH:  If ask people how city of Newton runs, they will say stable and well.  Very little controversy about term limits–no problems with graft and bad behavior.  Fact that very few communities in MA have term limits…still not understanding why this is important.  Saying that need term limits to toss out people who have run the city well.

JK:  seems to be a consensus that term limits a good idea, but numbers are a problem.

RK:  16 on SC, 16 on City Council, and 12 on Mayor.  Seconded.

JF:  16 years on SC?  Talking about having a SC where none of the members have children in the school system.  Flabbergasted…

RK:  no one has to serve 16 years and don’t have to have kids in the school system to do a good job.

JF:  appreciated historic knowledge that people bring, but respect that what parents who have kids in school system bring to the table.  Have to have a system that enables them to be part of the system and doesn’t shut them out.  Finds this extremely problematic also with negotiations when teachers never see in their daily like the people who are negotiating.  

BB:  doubling SC term seems a bit more than prefer to go.  Haven’t really talked much about option B.  

JK:  only problem with current proposal is 16 years for SC.  8 seems to work well.  

RK:  for people who don’t like term limits, this is as close as going to get to not having term limits.

VOTE:  2 in favor, 7 against.

BB:  Option B–keeping them all at 12 years.

KM: would rather see Option C because it keeps 8 years, longer for City Council (which is supported by Anne’s article)

AL:  is OK with the 12 for City Council and 8 for School Committee.

BB:  withdraws motion.

KM:  motion to adopt option C:  12 for Mayor, 16 for City Council, 8 for SC

JF:  solved the problem that Anne has brought up about the differential.  

AL:  will reluctantly support this.

VOTE:  6 in favor, 3 against.  Motion passes!

Term limits for Area Council–leave to City Council.

City Council Compensation: document today includes potential language for reimbursement to City Council and School Committee members.  No formal mechanism for this.  

AL:  because the SC budget is separate and City Council has no line item control, is having what’s allowable to be reimbursed really appropriate for SC people to be part of an ordinance?  SC already has a mechanism.  

Collins Center:  why wouldn’t go into appropriation?  

BL:  problem with the language is that it doesn’t force the Mayor to make the appropriation.  

AL:  would be an internal issue for the school department.  No line item control by City Council or the Mayor.  Only line item control is by the Mayor.

BL: no line item for City Council.  Is a budget for City Clerk’s office.  Councilors are not entitled to expenses and don’t get them reimbursed.  

BB:  why not take out the language for SC and leave it in for City Council?

JK:  if leave that line, requires the Mayor to sign off on it.

BB:  ordinance is long-lasting, stays in the public record.  Question of whether set longer-term guidelines.

RK:  allows the mayor to approve, subject to an override.

BL:  about putting the money in the budget.  No incentive or requirement for the Mayor to put it in the budget.  If not there, is this meaningful?  

Collins Center:  no specific dollar amount, but language comes from other charters.  Examples include associations that City Councillors belong to, conferences, etc.  

BL:  if the Council passed an ordinance about this, it doesn’t force the Mayor to appropriate the money.

RK:  but if in the charter, doesn’t that force the Mayor?

BK:  reimbursable is not reimbursed.

Collins:  Mayor proposal a budget, the Council needs to pass it.  He needs to include it in his proposal.

BB: do you have to say subject to appropriation?  If trying to take Mayor’s choice out of this, can take it out.

BL:  spent entire salary paying for expenses…maybe not all reimbursable.

KM:  no problem on principle…just a matter of language.

BL:  this might be the best we can do…is a statement about values.  

JK:  hearing support for measure for City Council, not for School Committee.

AL: want it to be parallel, but take out last line.


Removal Provision:  question was raised if there way any way to remove an elected official who had committee an egregious act other than recall or removal?  JF spoke with Ouida…said no.  Given how long it takes to be convicted, an election is actually the solution to the problem.  By the time get to the point of removal, would have had an election.

Typically handled by recall and not removal.  Who enforces the provision if someone ignores it?  Ouida expressed confidence that we wouldn’t see elected official refuse to resign in the face of conviction.  Election should take care of problem.

Recommendation is to NOT include a removal provision.

BB:  feel more strongly include a recall provision.

RK:  also support.

KM:  felt that recall provision has a narrow window, but there is a reason for it…would support a recall provision.

AL:  could support on a four-year position.  Is the length of term that is the issue, not the principal.

JK:  no one else would support, so will move on.

Article 9 Draft Review:  Made a chance in 9-3–all redlined, discussion about removing the minimum re:  size of area council.  Right now, includes that the guidelines will only have a maximum and not a minimum.

BL:  should include both.

BB:  “may include a minimum and should include a maximum.”

[Murmur of support]

JK:  some disagreement on this point, so move on to other changes.  Typos discussed and items moved about/renamed.

Back to minimum/maximum discussion:  should there be a minimum in guidelines.

RK:  not saying what the minimum would be?

JK:  not clear if discussion included reference to a minimum….

BL:  if no minimum but a maximum, implying that there doesn’t need to be a minimum.  But need to clarify this…let the City Council decide on the number, but there should be a minimum.  

JF:  comfortable that the City Council will be thoughtful about this.  

KM: initial goal was to ensure a minimum.

BL:  goal is still the same, but Charter Commission thought should turn that number over to the City Council.  But should tell the CC that they need to have a minimum–without it, they could be in a rough spot.  

BL:  motion to leave original drafting, with minimum mentioned.  Seconded.  

VOTE:  approved 9-0.

9-4 Elections:

JF:  could be confusion between 9-4 and 9-6–Area Councils as elected bodies or that the Council by-laws could provide for appointment.  

JK:  9-4 is a mandatory recommendation.  Take out “for membership”

CS:  want them to be all elected.

BL:  ‘providing structure” will replace it.  Mandates elections.

Definitions of Article 1:  current definition has the exclusion of area councils–for indemnification.  If take out, shows what areas in charter are affected.

BL:  doesn’t want City Council delegating powers to the Area Councils–that’s right in 2-10.

BB:  according to this provision, can delegate that to any volunteer boards–not because not allowed by charter but by judgement.

KM:  in place of making an amendment to Section 11-5…way around adding indemnification for Area Councils.

BL:  don’t want to put the city in a position responsible for expenses by Area Council.  What if Area Council enters into contract for something–have to go through the City…

JK:  this is an unintended consequence of changing the definition.

JK:  preference to go back and include the exclusion from the definition of city agency.  Protects from unintended consequences.  Adds specific indemnity to the Area Councillors when acting in their official capacity.  

BB:  understands why city lawyers prefer to change the definition rather than add express indemnification.  They know what to expect that way.

[General discussion about how to fix this problem.  Reason that because Area Council has power to do things, but only on their own dime–they were excluded as a city agency so that they couldn’t access city offices.  That was all removed in the charter review]

BL:  motion to leave the definition as is now, and take out line about indemnification.

CS:  by leaving this sentence puts the Area Council in limbo as to what they are.  Are they indemnified?

Proposal includes redlined phrase for definition (going back to original definition in the earlier charter) and no specific mention about indemnification.

VOTE:  7 in favor, 1 opposed, 1 abstaining.

Meeting adjourned.

Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop

Charter Commission Meeting Observer Notes 11-16-16

Charter Commission Meeting

November 16, 2016

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

Approval of Minutes: Minutes of October 26, 2016; approved with minor amendment.

Public Comments:

Reenie Murphy: talk about term limit discussion; in favor of longer terms for School Committee. Had benefit of being only newcomer when she came on—had a lot of experienced people to help her with the learning curve. Sometimes have 5 new people at the same time. Rare that person hits the ground running. She probably would have stayed a few more years. 12 year term is not unreasonable. If people get opposition every few years, then that takes away their focus while they worry about reelection. Her kids spanned 19 years in Newton Public Schools—she served 8 of those years. SC members could benefit from being there a bit longer. Not everyone chooses to stay all 8 years now. Keeping depth of knowledge is a good idea.

Lisle Baker: urge CC to think again about the issue of Ward Councilors and district representation. Value of having local knowledge and local activity. No one here as run for a Ward race—natural sentiment to look at at-large as positive. One of advantages—not necessarily responsible to people involved, can be more independent. Value in ability to evaluate from a dispassionate perspective. Not dispassionate on Ward issues. In a citywide council race, have a Mayor elected citywise, but could see situation where Mayor and Council need to represent somewhat different constituencies. Not always certain that chief executive would always be positive. Area Councils do not exercise any authority—need body that does with local representation. Ward Councilors turn over less frequently than those at large. Perform an important function for the city and important to retain them.

Amy Wayne: agree about keeping Ward Councilors. Chosen by the district. Want to keep council to 24—get wide range of opinion and ideas. Distribue the work among more people. About recall process—would like to add that for the Mayor and the Councilors.

Diane Pruenty: Also support keeping Ward Councilors—important to keep representation from each area who is responsible to the area. Important to have a recall process for Mayor and Councilors.

Kathleen Hobson: composition of City Council.   Still prefer one voted on in April. Reasons are the same ones they talked about in April. More effective, efficient, cooperative, attendant to big picture, retain ward representation, key features of Model City charter. One per ward with at-large pool—best people, don’t have to challenge sitting councilors who feel are effective.

Deb Crossley: particular concern about clarifying the balance of power between executive and legislative branch. When can executive make a unilateral decision regarding the use of city resources. Two situation recently—use of former branch library in Newton Corner by a private non-private and solar share program, where credit have value. Council was not consulted in either case, which would the normal procedure. Council appropriated $350K to renovate the house in Newton Corner—Parks and Rec were to be moved into that building, which was in substandard facilities on Crescent Street. During summer of 2015, executive ordered Parks and Rec to move into Kennard House, which still need renovation. The use of recently renovated building went to private co called Mass Challenge. Meant that other uses needed to leave Kennard Estate. Law Department suggested that a charter clarification might be in order—about licensing city property is not in the charter. Has suggested wording for Article 5 about use of resources about appropriations and use of city property/resources. Real life situations haven’t been handled the way the city charter intended.

Nathanial ??: suggest increasing city council term limits—14 or 16 years. Learning curve is very steep, so giving them more time would be appropriate. About city council composition, if go with plan they propose, what do you tell a ward that votes 65-35 in favor of one candidate, but has that candidate lose and they don’t have representation on the city council? Average citizen doesn’t have that much impact on councilors outside their wards. There are many city councilors that Nathanial has never met, so having local person is important. Hope that CC finds some way to not have everyone at large. Allows for a slate of “everybody” to be elected on the same platform. Feels a diversity of opinions would be better and we should be careful about giving everyone the same electorate in the city.

Lois Levin: hell of a lot easier to get to know 12 people and not 24. Is possible to get to know everyone if have the energy. Reinforce what Kathleen Hobson said—would have written something similar.

Lisle Baker (redux): times when licenses do not need to go through the Board. Maybe think about using an ordinance in Deb Crossley’s examples instead of putting it into the charter.

Deb Crossley (redux): Ouida Young specifically suggested that the charter would be the best way to do this.

Recall (Brooke and Jane): Article 10. Will of the body was to try to develop what a recall provision would look like before decide. Has document…Section X-X: changes are bolded and underlined. Framework: If have recall provision, who does this apply to? Different terms for mayor and council. If there is going to be recall, also need to have one for area council members—need to have for all elected officials. How many people have to ask for one? Needs to be significant enough that not just a small group miffed about an issue. Originally felt that recall would be about a specific issue, so want a number that is broader. Suggested 500 signatures—high end of communities that actually have such provision. Represent 1% of the voters, so maybe 1% for Area Councilors? If whole thing is valid, suggest 28 days for 15% of voters—both at high end of what communities have done. Then if signatures valid, recall election within 45-75 days (want to do this fast), then vacancy would be filled with a special election or whatever is required under other charter provisions. Does this have enough appeal that go into more detail, or talk about the concept in general?

RH: this is what expected to see…a typical provision.

CS: should this apply to all elected officials or just a subset? Is 2 year term enough to justify a recall? Should it just be for Mayor?

Brooke: couldn’t do 1st 6 months or last 6 months, so there is 50% of tenure of a councilor’s term when they would be susceptible.

AL: research showed that couldn’t be done in the first 12 months.

BL: could be the 2rd, 3rd or 8th term.

AL: seems reasonable to keep to offices with more than 2 year terms. Maybe leave language based on term length, in case the length of terms changes in a future charter review. If put recall in there, would tie it to length of office. Greater than 2 years?

BB: 15% collection requirement in 28 days would take the wind out of the sails of those likely to try right away. An elected official would have to do something so odious that the community would want to remove them—lost trust in this person Wouldn’t mind that being applied to a 2-year term.

BL: what if community upset with how election goes—might be that someone in a two-year term might still be a target.

RK: would be used rarely or maybe never. Extreme case for people to attempt that. Feel fine with it be on offices with 2 year terms. Thinking more about back end—process takes almost 4 months from when submit 500 signatures. If limit to someone with more than 6 months remaining, then should it be done?

BL: would be held to the 20% barrier for voting for referenda. Could be used as a political instrument, even close to an election.

AL: Then maybe shouldn’t do it.

BB: see worry about danger of abuse, but thinks more to recent examples in other parts of country—what if someone refused to resign?

HH: if all elected officials are included and still have ward aldermen, who could sign?

BL: if area councils, only people within that district would be allowed to sign or vote.

HH: could really be used as a political instrument. A ward aldermen might do something not good for another ward, but only voters in his district could actually vote him out?

RK: have only at-large in proposal now. If add back ward councilors, then need to revisit.

JK: can only have registered voters in that ward voting on a recall.

AL:   reinforces idea of having councilors at large—case to support direction already going in.

BL: comment about at-large people being elected when minority vote in their own ward…

JK: Like idea of keeping it to terms with more than 2 years. Would like to see consistency with vacancy provision in charter—currently 9 months. In terms of timing of election, believe it is normally 64-90 days to comply with law and to get ballots overseas.

Collins: has to be 64 days when person on the ballot—in this case there is no person.

BL: are situations where simultaneous elections to recall and replace. Don’t want to do it simultaneously.

RK: have provisions if it’s the Mayor.

BB: if will apply to Mayor and do it at different times, have different political problems.

HH: term limits are determined at the ballot box. Why not just let that happen if the recall process is so long and arduous?

JF: voting no on it. Is a good solid article, but is concerned that recall is focused on an individual and a referendum is on an issue. Wants to make referendum more accessible than a recall.

BB: hope it would only be used when a serious issue about someone’s integrity.

JF: can’t guarantee that in the charter.

KM: worried about egregious behavior—if don’t have anything in the charter, what do you do to address these behaviors?

BL: urge the chair to at least take a straw vote on where the commission sits. Neither drafters support this, so see if discussion is worth continuing.

RK: can guarantee (since collected 15% in the past) that will not be used so easily. Is insurance policy or safety valve. Most people would resign, but have person who will not and need a way to get them out of office.

BB: On federal level, no recall but there is a process. There is no process here now.

JF: had suggested a removal clause—if convicted of a felony—but it didn’t go down well.

RK: because the legal process takes so long.

HH: recall discussion is about a person that a group isn’t happy with. Wrong reason to have a recall. Why is it necessary if it probably will not happen? Haven’t needed it before?

BB: too many example nationally. Is rare, but when it does is egregious. Under current charter could be the Mayor for 3 more years.

KM: Can removal clause be expanded?

HH: if put in the charter and can’t comply with it (within 28 days), why have it in?

RK: would only happen if something egregious—front page of the Boston Globe. Safeguard is that people will not sign petition if not something that has been publicized?

BB: Thinking for example of case of Anthony Weiner. Thinks likely someone would resign, but what if not?

JK : motion that approve the language proposed in recall provision (include candidate on the ballot), not in the 1st 6 months and last 9 months. Bryan seconded.

RK: oppose having candidates on ballot—confuses the issue. What if want to remove official, but don’t like alternatives.

BL: amendment to remove the simultaneous election from the proposal. Seconded.

BB: can add a line that if removed from office, cannot run to be their own replacement? Collins: yes, think so.

Amendment passed—now no candidate on ballot, but rest of draft stays.

Vote on article: not passed, voted down 6-3.

City Council Composition:

Rhanna: considered 5 scenarios, agreed on the 8 and 5 split for city council. Got feedback from a variety of sources—biggest is that support for scenario D and for continuing having ward-only councilors. Revisited it in August—considered the 12 member council—8 at large by ward, 4 by district at large. Commissioners still want to downsize by half and for all to be elected at large. One councilors suggested having an even number. Continues to receive feedback and done more research. Have three scenarios: April, August, and ward council scenario.

With all at-large, how frequently win city wide and lose within the ward. Looked back to 1993 (11 elections, 170 at large seats, 41 contested races—3 or 4 candidates) 9 occurrences when won citywide but not within ward or lost citywide but won home ward. In SC, since 2001, 8 elections, only 2 occurrences.

BB: found data helpful. Some quick observations—people won home ward, lost citywide who eventually did win. Two people on commission who were victims of this process.

JK: thought SC was a good comparison, since one seat per ward.

RK: benchmarch cities: if have at large pool, is it challenged more often (held more accountable)? Used whatever data found on internet from peer cities; 12 cities, 47 elections back to 2005. Not a huge data set, but data is telling. 96% of time at large candidates are challenged. As far as ward-based councilors, only contested 45% of time, not necessarily evenly spread. Took Newton out because we are really a hybrid—in one analysis added 24 ward seats, but then did it again with just 8.

One other piece of research—concentration of people coming from one ward with too much emphasis. Called 6 city clerk offices—anectdotally is this an issue in your city. Do people feel this is an issue? They found the question surprising…have a very complementary relationship with ward and at-large, who represent the whole city. If all from one section that is the will of the voters. At large councilors tend to show up to everything. In other cities, they are real ward councilors and truly at-large councilors. IN practice, six cities had no experience like this—balled by question.

JF: wards that were affected when won citywide and lost ward, were 1, 2, 3 and 4—all north side.

BL: appreciate work Rhanna has done. Makes her feel even more comfortable with totally at large pool—only make again the suggestion that move from 13 to 12 for the simplicity of the internal operations of the body. Not significant different to the citizens. Motion to accept originally agreed upon scenario but switch from 5 at-large to 4. AL seconded.

CS: concern about at-large pool. Focus is diluted and concept of being accountable to voters in a yes/no situation is important.

BB: Flipside is that in pool can have people elected by a certain block that is less than the majority.

HH: Rhanna’s work is so compelling. When has an issue, calls the councilor who he thinks if the most appropriate—doesn’t think about who is his ward aldermen.

CS: thinking more of the district model

HH: is too complicated at this time. Another whole big issue about how combine certain wards.

AL: understand folks concern about having someone from their ward represent them. Model is similar to SC over the years—haven’t been very many times that people from a certain section felt there wasn’t representation. Has served the individual districts well. At large pool might get more people interested in running, and increase the pool and mix of people.

BB: thinking of districts—how complicated it could be. Huge problems with voter information.

KM: supports the 12. Great to have opportunity to think about proposal especially where getting push back. Vote to keep area councils but have them defined—could help with local representation. Can rework the responsibilities, especially with 311.

CS: people would get used to the names of the districts. Wants to challenge the notion of the value of encouraging people to run who don’t want to run in a binary race. If situation brings forth people who are not comfortable advocating themselves, that might not be best for the city.

JF: people like geographic representation. Districts are appealing and work well in Burlington, VT. Concerned that has a part of the city that has not been represented—lost ward representation in favor of votes by the city. If did ward and district, could do both at-large. They would feel represented. Concerned that the group of 4 might be the people with the greatest name recognition. Wants to have some structure to that group of 4.

BB: actually feel like name recognition might matter less with at-large pool, v. working hard and running a really effective campaign.

BL: not mutually exclusive—both can be true.

RK: focus on diversity of Newton—geographic, economic—highlights need for ward-based representation with the need for everyone to answer to the whole city. Benefits of at-large pool outweigh the downside.

BB: councilors have filled in gaps where city hasn’t been as responsive.

JK: district preservers that geographic diversity, but does so at a cost—confusion, when an overarching goal has been to simplify. Less concerned if challenged each time—if have the right person, doesn’t care if they aren’t challenged. Likes at-large pool so that can get a very high quality group of candidates. Likes that a lot. Ensures a high quality city council—more probable, not guaranteed. Simpler to explain.

JK: felt that important to revisit this issue again in light of comments.

VOTE: 8 plus 4 at large: 7 in favor; 2 opposed.

Preliminary Elections:

JK: motion to keep it the way it is. Issue is in language but no philosophical issue. More than 2 x number of candidates…8-1.

BB: worth thinking about.

City Council Compensation:

BB: Thanks to Karen and Rhanna for taking it all on and fleshing it all out.

KM: Bryan started this with research on salaries in other municipalities. Found that below market. Bring charter up to date with references to salary and benefits…and how will it impact the city financially over time. Wanted to see effects on pensions, healthcare, etc

Consulted people over time and did lots of research.

  1. Newton’s charter does not currently specify that councilors or school committee members be compensated. More charters do, with actual amount set by ordinance. Putting forward that they should be compensated—put in the charter. Similar to language for mayor.

AL: is it a problem to not have it in? Is it common practice? Makes it logical and complete.

BL: is a values statement.

AL: helps with some costs like child care, etc.

BB: important for families to have extra money when they spend so much time on the city.

  1. Health insurance: currently do receive it, but because don’t serve 10 years and earn $5k or over, don’t get benefits. If get 10 years in, more than $5k, get health care benefits at retirement.

JF: does health care continue after service had ended?

RK: when you retire…by state law. If term limit people, might be creating huge liability for city if we create more people in this position.

BB: allowing Councilors to get benefit, but not School Committee members (except those who serve a second round.)

JK: opposed to putting this in the charter since the healthcare situation is changing.

KM: Mayor is able to affect this issue—contribution, etc.

Agreement: to leave it as is, do not exclude for health insurance.

  1. Pensions—informational paragraph. Nothing for the charter. Are creating a huge liability with more city councilors? Cost of term limits? Resources say that this won’t make a huge difference—small amounts for a handful of people. Not putting pension benefits in the charter.
  2. Salaries: City Council is 10% of Mayor’s salary, SC is 5%–this was practice, not ordinance or in the charter. When Mayor’s salary rose in 2006, the others didn’t get a raise. Do we want to put some controls on this? Now the salaries are well below market. Do we want to require regular salary reviews for Mayor, CC, or SC? Or should there be a 2/3 vote required by CC to make the change? Collins Center says that it is not typically done—line about salary reviews.

BL: ratio in other cities between Mayor salary and council salaries. Hard to vote for those…could have regular reviews.

BB: real goal should be to insulate salary process from political process. Would like to see a regular salary review, council gets an up or down vote and no way to raise their salary without that process. Have to set up regular salary review by a commission.

Collins: Not usually a charter issue.

JF: like setting Mayor’s salary and then Council and SC take a %age of that. [discussion of history of mayoral raise in 2006] Need to make sure Mayor’s salary is reasonable to attract excellent candidates.

BB: worry is that if tie in the charter, could find that CC won’t raise Mayor’s salary for political reasons.

JK: regular salary review is a good idea; tying salaries together a good idea; but none of this belongs in the charter. Difficult to separate the political vote—can’t see how to do that in a way that makes sense.

BL: independent panel, etc.

JK: makes sense not to mandate anything in charter; let mayor and council decided what works best for the city at that time.

JF: concern is the city council (too low) and they won’t raise them (not since 1997).

BB: issue of fairness and people being able to run—harder for newer, less established people to run.

BL: some councilors might have stayed longer than should have because of the benefits and the salary; can’t presume to know the economic situation of every elected official. Add in Articles 2 and 4 that they should be compensated and salaries reviewed from time to time.

  1. Can provide for a compensation reset. Looked at comparable cities, have recommendations.

BL:   Only thing can vaguely justify is to do it for the Council. note that it’s been a long time since they got a raise. In letter to mayor and Council, say examined salaries and find our elected officials are way underpaid. Doesn’t support putting in a number

BB: really cautious about working off data—very variable. We do have a blue ribbon recommendation for the city that is still more than currently paid.

AL: go back and think about whole package. Salary issues are a red flag—would not want to complicate total package by putting salary in it.

Collins: common when changing structure of government.

KM: people would start to say what about increased workload?

RK: but we’re not increasing the workload—no research indicated that.

JK: not hearing support for any dollar amounts in the charter. Write something in the memo

  1. Reimbursement for expenses?

Some charters have something about reimbursement of expenses. Can be put in charter…

AL: want better understanding of what people think they should be reimbursed for. What would she ever have applied for reimbursement for?

BB: varies widely.

BL: every year she served, expenses were postage, telephone bills, some travel expenses, enough so that it used my entire salary in the course of the year.

KM: wording from Collins Center basically requires approval—set by ordinance.

JK: are they prohibited from doing that now? Proposal is that SC and CC members can be reimbursed for expenses subject to appropriation.

AL: SC is different from CC.

KM: Framingham has two separate clauses for SC and CC.

RK: doesn’t that happen anyway?

BL: couldn’t do this without putting in the charter?

AL: Schools have more control—they pay for expenses.

RK: bring back language on this issue for discussion.

Meeting on November 30th:

  • Term limits
  • Expenses
  • Finish those, then move to transitions.
  • Look at unfinished issues, items to revisit
  • Anne: look at issue of financial control, brought up by Deb Crossley


December 7th: review of transition provisions

December 14th: review draft of report


Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop

New Charter Commission Observer Notes Available

The Charter Commission spent much of the last four meetings discussing area councils, focusing on if they should be in the city charter and, if so, what that article would look like.  The final vote on Wednesday night was 6-3 in favor of including them in the charter.  Check out the details in our LWVN observer meeting notes by clicking here:  charter commission.  Send your thoughts and comments to the Charter Commission at

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