9-14-16 CC Public Hearing on Area Councils

Charter Commission Public Hearing

September 14, 2016

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

Attending Panelists: Anil Adyanthaya, Marc Kaufman, Sallee Lipshutz, Srdj Nedeljkovic, John Rice, Terry Sauro

August Minutes: Approved with some clarifications of discussion (8-0).

Public Comment:

Betsy Barker (on behalf of Rodney Barker): Rodney has been an Aldermen and School Committee member in the past, while holding a full-time job. Loved serving Newton. Feels that amount of decision-makers is needed to do all the work; otherwise, with fewer City Councilors, only people who can do the job full-time will be able to serve. Trying to fix something that is not broke.

Rodney Barker: feels very strongly that current City Council works very well. While full Board meetings can be rather long, the work is done primarily in committee. Diversity of Council represents the diversity in the community. Reducing the size of the Board is anti-democratic—democracy works well in Newton as is. Councilors play an important role in a large city. Encourages the Charter Commission to rethink the size of the City Council, otherwise only wealthy people would be able to serve.

Ernest Lowenstein: request to speak very close to the microphone.

Panel Discussion (led by Chris Steele, Karen Manning and Jane Frantz):

KM: Thanks for joining the discussion on Article 9 on Neighborhood Councils. Thoughts are with Howard, and all hope that he feels better soon. Each article warrants a different approach. Want all to understand several points.

JF: First, research shows that most charters don’t include articles about neighborhood area councils. Second, not all issues should be resolved through the charter. As issues are uncovered over the course of the review, they might not be included in the charter, but might appear in other documentation that the CC will provide the city at the end of the review process.

CS: Panelists are from current NAC and village associations. [Introduces panelists] Please keep comments concise.

JF: 1st question: What is the mission/purpose of your NAC or village association?

AA: Two main goals: community building in Upper Falls (all types of residents and feeling that sense of community was being lost) and conduit between residents and City Council and other departments. Perceived to be more accessible than other parts of city government.

SL: Mission statement of WAC is to hear, respond to and represent village concerns and issues, provide forum for Waban issues and to promote resident involvement in local government. The Waban Improvement Society is a sister organization that does more community-type events. WAC focused more on interaction with government, informing citizens (i.e. about 40B) and representing neighborhood concerns. Cooperates with other area councils to provide Candidates’ Night during elections.

SN: purpose is to do as much as can to encourage citizen involvement in government. Community nights, village day, and to give input on issue of importance to neighborhood (i.e. what to do with the Crystal Lake Bathhouse).

MK: Council was formed 3 years ago. Tasks are to promote a public dialogue, have the community be a part of the process in terms of local government. Help develop a vision for Newtonville and discuss issues of development that are concern to the neighborhood.

JR: Area councils have a feel for each village. Each doesn’t operate exactly the same because each village is different. Communication, a lot of public meetings, on issues of interest—Crystal Lake, parking, etc. Great thing is that they have a very diverse discussion: ice cream, parking in same meeting. Many members don’t want to run for City Council. Good things happen at Area Councils.

TS: Nonantum is an association, not an area council. Started with a focus on beautification and upkeep in neighborhood. Doesn’t want to be a councilor—feels that she is effective as is. Do beautification, shop ‘m stroll, have facebook page for community events, outreach. Mission is to foster improvements and initiatives for growth, prosperity and advocacy for Nonantum. Involve elected officials, officers.

CS: 2nd question:  Under current charter, Area Council are form on a grass roots level. What are your thoughts on how they are formed now, including surface areas, what has worked and suggestions for going further?

MK: How do you begin? School system? Voting district? Newtonville efforts looked at city maps, sketched out area, got feedback from people. Evolved and became more formal when make application other city. Was an organic process and different for each area council. Not a formal process.

SN: NHAC started with concerns about changes in the community. Been approached by people on south side of Route 9—part of Newton Highlands, why can’t run? So area council expanded based on people coming to them, got signatures and expanded. One of the strengths of the local structure is that it represents mutual shared interests in a community, provides for a great deal of diversity in terms of representation. Have discussed whether or not Newton be carved up into different areas—majority that current system should prevail.

AA: believe that it should be divided up by villages. Creates opportunity for hyperlocal focus—if keep them as village institutions that address issues of individual constituencies.

SL: Area Council means gain access to city councilors and people who work for the city. If have a few area councils with many areas not covered by such organizations—those areas lack the same access that others have. Thinks that every citizen in Newton should have an area that they belong to. Should not be on their shoulders to determine the boundaries. Is a terribly complex process. Has a proposal that has given to the Mayor. Should divide the city into Area Councils that resemble neighborhoods with similar concerns and then present to the City Council for them to hold hearings on, etc.

TS: focus on what is going on in Nonantum and how to improve it.

JR: CC has to look at how to set up boundaries across the city. City Council should lay out the boundaries. Councilors have had meetings where people fight over boundaries.

SN: System of notification when area councils are being formed. Should be a formal notification so that everyone in proposed area so that they can be part of that process of establishing an area council for that zone. Hope to see that improved moving forward.

SL: no funding presently; hope that the city would do this by mail to all residents in boundary area.

KM: 3rd question:  Any other comments on signature gathering? Comments on election process?

SL: Election should take place at same place and same time as municipal elections. Legitimately election commissioners. Signature collection—city councilor need 50 for ward, and then 25 for an Area Councilor seems reasonable.

SN: Clarifies what is already happening—currently collect 25 signatures. For 3 of the 4 area council, elected with municipal officials.

JR: NHAC election was run by LWVN, but since have been run by city has been a much smoother process.

JF: 4th question:  How does the board of a village association form its board?

TS: started off with 3, now up to 11. Don’t have elections. Put on facebook asking for people to join. No election, not formal. Don’t we all want to work together, as a council? Nor as formal as the councils, open to all things.

MK: have a fairly large number of people available in an area. Questions about how you do elections and politics. When join city voting process.

JR: agree with Terry.

AA: has been done on same ballot. Impression on legitimacy and importance of area council when elected during municipal election.

JF: 5th question:  Functions may be advisory or may provide substantive authority on a range of topics. What do you perceive as the relationship between the area council and the City Council?

SL: Area has not asked for powers other than advisory. Asked to be heard as a strong voice in the community, engaged with city employees to garner info for residents and to relate concerns about City resources. Worked with reps on City Council to direct interactions with city employees. Don’t believe that they should be confined to advisory function only. If Ward Councilor is eliminated and City Council is shrunk, then Area Council might be called upon to fill more responsibility. Letter from WAC calls for power of Area Councils to be identical.

SN: NHAC has taken an advisory role, not taken authority to enact powers. Charter is being written for the future—important to maintain that clause to allow both advisory and authority on topics. Expand to include functions and activities—transportation and parking, design review, open space. Charter Commission needs to clarify clause giving city council ability to delegate power.

TS: 4 councils in Newton, with 13 villages. Why aren’t others forming councils? As far as allocating funds, how do you do that? How much do you give? Doing everything the council is doing…would like to see other villages form associations. Maybe put associations in charter? Maybe not?

MK: Love that the current charter is so big—allowed the area council to do everything and anything. Example—survey on Austin Street. Different responsibilities to the area council—would lead to different types of people running. Perceive themselves as being group-sensitive issue in Newtonville.

AA: role is largely advisory. Number of city councilors changes the area council.

SL: after 20% of boundary residents are collected, they are taken to city council, which determines whether there is a legitimate area council. Produce a resolution empowering the area council with specific allowed responsibilities. Three area councils have limited authority given to them from what is possible. Highlands Council was formed many years ago—has been given more powers. Whether they use them or not is up to the area council. Consider that all area councils be allowed the same powers. Memo to the Board of Aldermen with pros and cons of giving area councils certain powers.

KM: 6th question:  Comment on sources of funding, expenditures and accounting practices? How do you manage money?

MK: One source of funding; spend virtually nothing, except on signs and printing. Most money is put aside for hardscape changes in Newtonville—benches, etc. Asking local business to contribute as well.

SN: Income is from Village Day (booth sales, silent auction, donations); spend money on Village Day, skating rink, beautification, community outreach (mailing to all in area—trying electronic); Section 9a—NHAC requests that CC consider—change so that allow area councils to accept funds from public, city and other sources. Not to mandate allocation of funding, but to allow them to accept funds. Generate new sources of revenue—establish improvement districts (also needs to be added to the charter.)

SL: Sources from silent auction on Waban Village Day–$3K—as well as matching grant made to subcommittee for bridges across Charles River walking trail. Reports finances annually—maintenance of treasury is in limbo. Hopes to handle its own funds instead of as a “city gift fund.” Lack of source of income has tied their hands has limited the ability to “take the temperature” of the community on certain issues.

TS: Have Village Day, sponsors, fundraisers, gave scholarships. Treasurer handles the money. She’s hearing the others ask for $10K, but what about the other areas without area councils?

JR: allowing them to accept funding that is approved by City Council.

AA: funds from Upper Falls Community Development Corporation—donates as needed, Village Day fees and private donations. Funding is a challenge—limits what they can do with communication.

CS: Last question: getting feedback from residents as well as acting as a conduit to the city. Describe how they communicate with residents formally and informally to get a full range of opinions.

MK: spend a lot of time on communication. Complicated because as much as they try to reach out, miss people. Have an email list of 900 names—use to inform about event. Have own website separate from city website. Do opinion surveys, word-of-mouth. Have own booths. Have gone door-to-door about public meetings. Participate in city-related blog. Have signs that go on islands in Newtonville. Still miss people, but do try.

SL: produced brochures about area council; email mailchimp list; maintain a website and post info on concerns; list emails of members; hold regular meetings; announce all meetings on City’s website. Have link from city website; collect emails from members at meetings, election days, village days. City could support by asking people to send email addresses to area councils. Exercise best efforts to reach out to residents. Facebook page and nextdoor.com

TS: Facebook page, emails, people reach out to them.

AA: facebook page; participate on Nextdoor.com, rely on city webpage, no separate web presence.

SN: everything everyone else said; what happens when someone from outside the group “hogs” the group. Use the Walnut Street Bridge for signs.

JR: lot of dialogue.

JF: Thanks so much…have people who do want to speak.

SN: Thanks to area council member who has done a lot of research.

JF: Thanks to all of your for the information and for taking the time to share their thoughts.

SL: Thanks for the opportunity. Collins Center has recommended that not include area councils in the charter. Recommend most strongly that area council will have a much better change of being successful if they are enshrined in the charter.

Public Comments Related to Article 9:

Lynn Weisberg: Very interesting to hear from all the members. Wants to focus the conversation—look at the mission, goals, purposes that can identify. Agree that citizen involvement, building community are all worthwhile. Question before the charter commission is whether or not NAC should be codified in the charter. Would urge whether the work that is being done by each of the area councils could be done by a neighborhood association. Don’t have 13 area councils. Her ability to participate in civic life has not been hampered by no area council in Newton Center. Question the assumption whether the most important organizing principal should be based on villages. Many groups are based on issues and not addresses. Simply no need to have them elevated to that status. Experience has had to do with housing issues in the city—positions taken by area councils were not representative of those villages. Gives an opinion an edge—shouldn’t carry more weight.

Councilor Albright: definition of public engagement—people willing to get involved. Charters inclusion of area council was to foster engagement in government. City Council should b charged with setting up mechanisms for how area councils should operate. Should be across the city, with city council determining boundaries and fair elections across the city. She agrees with Sallee. But…basically same people who come to area council meetings.

Lois Levin: agrees with Lynn. A lot of organizations in the city—some do a great job, some not so great. Don’t have them throughout the city, and Terry has been highly successful without an area council. We’re talking about putting something into our governmental charter—this issue isn’t there yet.

Helen Rittenberg: Lois stole her words. Do everything in power to build community. Don’t need to have anything in the constitution about this.

Dolores Acivedo Garcia: consider not including area councils in the charter. Agree with earlier points about community participation. Problem in terms of representation—shocked about election numbers. 6.3% of voters showed up to elect Area Council members, and none had more than 180 votes. Do not adequately represent views in community, especially around housing issues. Diversity of opinion in Waban—WAC is fully aware and has chosen to represent only one side. Involved in St Philip Neri site—sent letter on behalf of neighborhood, but wasn’t represented. Process issues in WAC meetings—limited dissent.

Councilor Ruthanne Fuller: Area Councils have more access and more power. Was president of the Chestnut Hill Association—no center, no school, no community center. Historic District but not the whole thing…definitely neighbors, though. Raised money for legal efforts to fight Boston College, have social events, etc. More democratic with area councils, but maybe more inclusive with neighborhood associations. Concern about money and responsibilities. CHNA thought hard about wanting to become a neighborhood area council…to force a neighborhood to have one would be very uncomfortable. 13 villages aren’t all real villages, some centers are different from others. Have 15 elementary schools—can’t use that as an organizing basis. How do you figure out the money? How give to 4 councils? Funds aren’t audited…don’t want them on the city books. To go through city expense procedures would be a nightmare for area councils and for the city. If weren’t in the charter, how much would it hurt the area councils to have to set up on their own?

Response: SN: agree with much of what Ruthanne said. Maintain diversity…leaves room for neighborhood associations to exist. What do you gain by eliminating something? SL: Comments on Ms. Garcia’s comments. WAC is transparent—discussion occurs at meetings and do not take formal positions. Feels there would be much less involvement in local government without the area councils. Difficult to make needs heard to the City Council.  JR: Doing away with area councils would have significant negative impact. Some members have been on for 30 years. Lot of issues that NHAC gets involved with.  TS: want to open this up—associations work hard too, have community input. Not making any decisions—just bring things forward.

Councilor Deb Crossley: Commend CC for how they’ve organized the discussion. Like that they take straw votes and move on. Hope to this completely before go back and revisit, because things are intricately tied together. Citizen participation is the core question here. How do we use the charter to encourage citizen input. Want to make sure that people have a voice. A lot of opportunity for people to speak to city council. How should the charter recognize and regulate area councils—need to ask why? What are the benefits to the city at large? If it’s going to be formalized, why should a resident of the city need to be a registered voter to participate what is going on in their neighborhood? Would there really be less overall involvement in the city? Does the notion of putting this in the charter…does it impact citizen involvement? Is there a burden on city resources? Is it reasonable? Should some number of neighborhoods have greater access?

Kathleen Hobson: a layer of government we don’t need; understand meant to encourage citizen participation. Were meant to be neutral and unbiased, but found that two paragraphs were missing in some area council documents about hearing from diversity in opinions; disallow any attempt to convey an “neighborhood consensus”—WAC has not been neutral, and it has been true since its inception. Started based on Engine 6 controversy. Most members on first council were against housing development. They are accorded special authority that they don’t deserve.

Chris Pitts: VP of Waban Improvement Society. Different kind of person who is interested in community building. Now is the most important time for area councils—see them in the “hot” spots for Newton. Development, schools and traffic. Disagrees with comments on Waban Area Council—doesn’t stop anyone who wants to speak in meetings. Area Councils have learned about topics related to housing, have been hearing from residents. System for a single citizen to come to Newton to raise a complaint is difficulty—area councils help people deal with that. Area Councils help City Councilors be very effective.

Sue Flicop: inequitable representation around the city due to Area Councils. They arose because of a failure of local government to make people feel they’ve been heard and responded to. The solution is not to add more area councils—just adding another layer of government. Taking away ward councilors but adding back area councils? How is this going to improve things? Read the Planning Department Report recently—staff in that department are demoralized and overworked. Without enough staff, difficult to respond to 24 councilors—now going to add Area Councilors with their own issues? That would continue the current problems we have.

Nathaniel Lichtin: To take away a choice that others have made reduced citizen engagement. Area councils are elected bodies and are transparent. If you don’t like what they do, the answer to that is elections. Allow participation throughout the meeting. Small vote numbers—aren’t elected by a large number of people—need to improve, not a reason to do away with—instead work to make more representative. Doing away with another point of contact—leave 13 people with responsibility to respond to the city. Worthy of having funds for projects—City Council, which represents all the city, would decide whether to fund.

September 28th is the next CC meeting, where Article 9 will be discussed.

Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop

The Charter Commission wants to hear from you! Let them know your thoughts on the City Council proposals.

Last spring, the Charter Commission unanimously supported (in a straw vote) a reduction in the size of the city council to 13 members (8 elected at large with a residency requirement (one per ward), and 5 at-large candidates who could be from anywhere in the city.)  This past week, the Charter Commission revisited the topic and is now looking at another proposal that keeps the 8 councilors but changes the 5 at-large candidates to 4 or 5 candidates elected by district (larger than a ward, but smaller than the whole city.)  This issue is still under consideration, and the Charter Commission wants to hear your thoughts on both proposals.  Email them at charter commission@newtonma.gov and it will reach all 9 commissioners.

Charter Commission Meeting 8-24-16

Charter Commission Meeting

August 24, 2016

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

Not attending: Howard Haywood

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

Public Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

City Council Composition:

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

Issues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BL: Why should we up the ante?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BL: need to define public body

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

Voted 8-0

Process for Article 9:

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

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

New Business:

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

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

Public Comment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop.

7-12-16 Charter Commission Observer Notes

7-12-16 Charter Commission Meeting Observer Notes

Charter Commission Meeting

July 12, 2016

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

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

Public Comments:

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

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

Article 5: Financial Procedures—

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

AL: thinks is helpful and consistent

(Barash arrives at 7:15)

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

BB: proposes changing “may” to “shall”

JK: thinks too detailed.

RK: likes list

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

JF: yes

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

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

Sec. 5b Capital Inventory and Capital Improvement Program:

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

Straw Vote: 9-0

Article 6

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

HELD

Term Limits

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

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

The cc then addressed the following questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BL: have had difficulty getting people to run.

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

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

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

KM: few seats turn over via challenge.

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

JK summarized pros and cons of TL:

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

 

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

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

HH: Ward 3 has issues finding people to run

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

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

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

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

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

BB: Mayors can wait out council

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

BB: keep in mind fresh ideas if tl mayor

JF: name recognition trumps all in mayoral races

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

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

KM: can be different. Easy to understand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RK: favors 12 for council and mayor

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

BB: power associated with mayoral incumbency…

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

BL: we are here for two things:

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

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

BB: agree. Best to TL both

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

KM: 16?

RK: data on other cities—same limits

KM: too dramatic a change?

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

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

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

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

Decide to vote SC and council first

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

 

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

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

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

KL: there was no push to change this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final report

JK wanted volunteers to work over the summer

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

JK—wants an intro and wants materials summarized

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

BL: august meeting?

Summer work: get notes and summaries together, explain process

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

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

KM leaves at 9:50

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

Meeting adjourned at 10.

Submitted by Andreae Downs.

6-29-16 Charter Commission Meeting Observer Notes

Charter Commission Meeting

June 29, 2016

 

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

Not Attending: Rhanna Kidwell, Christopher Steele

Approval of Minutes: Approval of April 27th minutes

Public Comments:

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

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

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

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

Article 7: Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article 5: Financial Procedures

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

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

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

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

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

Result:

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

Straw vote next meeting.

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

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

Issues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City Council Compensation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preview of Term Limits Discussion:

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

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

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