Charter Commission Meeting Observer Notes 5-11-16

Charter Commission Meeting
May 11, 2016

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

Public Comment:

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

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

Discussion of Article 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recall provision – different article, discuss later.

Revisit filling of vacancies – articles 2 & 4

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

Concludes Article 2 discussion.

Article 1: Barash and Lipsett.

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

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

General agreement – simplify, make shorter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article 11

Boards and commissions

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully submitted by Lisa Mirabile

May 4th CC Meeting–Observer Notes

Charter Commission Meeting

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

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

Guests: Ed Tarallo, Sr., Candace Havens, George Mansfield, Ted Hess-Mahan, Marc Laredo

Topic: Article VII: Planning

Public Comments:

Phil Herr: works in planning for whole career (practicing and teaching): doing terrific job; 1. Section 7-3a in current charter has provision about comprehensive plan—city’s actions should be in line with comprehensive plan, but if city does something against it, it is the same as if amended the comprehensive plan. This deserves examination. 2. Who should be the special granting authority? Question is really who gets to change that. Isn’t a choice that the commission can make—only city council can do that.

Discussion on Article VII (Planning):

Several key points:

Research and info from Collins Center—unusual/very rare for a charter to have an article focused on planning. Not a single one in peer communities. Dealing with it because of history. 7-1 and 7-3 have been superceded by state law. Commission has received many comments about special permit granting authority. None assign responsibility in charter itself. Info might affect charter transition and follow-up—issues might not end up in the charter.

Panel:

Marc Laredo: Chair of Land Use Committee; was on School Committee;

Ted Hess-Mahan: City Council since 2003; currently Chair of Zoning and Planning, was Chair of Land Use for 4 years, attorney,

Candace Havens: worked in planning since 1977; certified planner since 1990—public and private; came to Newton in 1993—Chief Planner for Newton in 2007, Planning Director, worked in planning until 2014.

George Mansfield: important to work together even when people disagree; professional planner—practiced and taught in Rhode Island, Washington, DC and MA. Currently Director of Planning in Carlisle. Was chair of Land Use Committee prior to Ted.

Ed Tarallo: lives in Waltham; professional planner since 1972. Planning Director in Malden for 20 years; 5 years at MAPC, Planning Director in Woburn 2002-2014. Served on Waltham City Council—worked on zoning and rules committee and was chair, was President of Council.

Planning: looking into the future—comprehensive plan; then zoning ordinance to implement policy; then planning framework

  1. Describe process for frameworks: how to make more transparent and predictable, in line with values of the city:

ML: City Council operates within a framework—Comprehensive Plan and zoning code; code allows by right or by special permit; special permit designed to be a check on some types of projects—large projects or ones that might impinge on neighbors—not automatically allowed. When applies for special permit, City Council can attach conditions. Thinks special permitting process is critically important—can’t have just rigid rules, yes-or-no rules; have instances with non-conforming because structures built before zoning rules; special permit process is inherently political and belongs in an elected body of officials—elect a lot of people already, so adding an elected body could be overly cumbersome. Important that we elect members who make the decisions. Appointed body doesn’t do as well at listening and balancing legitimate needs of developers and those affected by development. Fears concentration of power if appoint a planning board—reflection of a Mayor’s values. Cumbersome at times; process can be streamlined—has been working with planning staff to improve internal processes and make process more user friendly; appreciates the importance of public input—don’t want to lose that; elected body is well-suited to do that. Elected body could appoint a group to do this. Urge CC to leave the process in the hands of elected officials.

THM: Elected body is wrong place for special permit granting authority. Charter Commission can’t do anything about it. Part of MGL—goes to legislative body to determine where the decisions are made. City Council, in it’s role, judges the merits of the special permit application, etc. ZBA or Planning Board has special permit granting authority—elected in many other communities. Candace instituted design review teams—get feedback on proposals—give up front idea of what issues would be and to give a chance to go work on it. Vetting process helped streamlined the system. Problem is not the process—problem is the zoning and that is where the City Council has problems delegating. Temptation to micromanage—expensive for people with even very small projects. Zoning reform is a way forward. Do regulate a lot of stuff—keep major projects, which should have a political aspect to them. Then the council can serve in a quasi-judicial role. Ward councilors are no more parochial than at-large councilors.

CH: Agree with process as described; things done to make system work as well as possible, given the structure; having lots of perspective/public input is a strength of the process; Couple of problems: with elections every couple of years—the composition of the committees change. Land Use Committee has a steep learning curve—not a criticism, but takes time to get up to speed. Quasi-judicial role—hard for some members of City Council to switch hats—role is usually to advocate for constituents and help them with problems; having to sit back, not pre-judge a project, can be hard for some people. That politicizes the process.

GM: process become more complex, but also a lot better—has changed a lot in 12 years; criticism that has built up over the year is based on long-term memory and experience. Details on special permit granting authority cannot be in the charter. Who conducts that process can be in the charter—establish a planning board—works this way in Walpole. Current structure set in 1970s—CC can make recommendations to City Council.

ET: special permit granting authority doesn’t belong in the charter; way state law is enacted since 1970s—certainly belongs in the zoning ordinance. Zoning ordinance is done by the City Council not in quasi-judicial role, but as an elected body in a community. Special permit is in a quasi-judicial role. When 1975 changes in state law occurred—allowed authority to by ZBA, Planning Board, City Council and/or Zoning Administrator. Special permits are sometimes split between several of these bodies. In towns, planning boards are elected. In cities, they are appointed by the Mayor. Only elected body that usually handed special permit is City council. They do have a role—represent constituents even in a quasi-judicial manner. Smaller items that can be handled by other agencies—dealt with other communities through ZBA or Planning Board. Most variances won’t stand challenge in court—that’s why quasi-judicial role is important. Need judgement in decisions. Could have permits in multiple venues; those with major impact belong with elected officials. Entities have different authorities and powers—they have different expertise that may help decide where place the decisions.

  1. Article in charter now about comprehensive plan. In other states, state regulation that require the formation of a comprehensive plan; zoning is aligned with plan. What is panel’s thoughts on the concepts on how the comprehensive plan can be enshrined in the charter so that values can become a more constructive tool?

ML: comprehensive plan is always a good idea. Seen is repeatedly cited by colleagues or members of planning department to support whatever it is they are speaking about. Not convinced that needs to be enshrined in the charter or how that would happen. In part drive by executive, part by legislature; would opt to take it out rather than put it in. Doesn’t do much in the charter. Should be a vision for the City required to be updated periodically; zoning code does need to be updated periodically.

THM: Absolutely belongs in the charter. State law requires a master plan—we call comprehensive plan. Responsibility given to an elected body—planning board. Excellent document—should be changed more frequently. Important to have a master plan as well—uses beyond guiding zoning. Would strengthen section in charter to include a report every year to City Council by Planning Department as to what has been done with zoning to move the comprehensive plan forward. Comprehensive plan should have teeth in it. Adopted in 2007—is in serious need of updating.

CH: fortunate to have reference in charter. Also have something about adopting land use regulations—could benefit from strengthening the relationship between the two. Clear understanding of what the goals are and how they are executed—good planning sense. Keep updating every year.

GM: useful and central to have charter provisions to establish the comprehensive plan and its functions. Tweaking needs to be done: some things aren’t generally observed—maybe not be there or start observing them: role of Planning and Development Board should put in writing that it is compliance with comprehensive plan. Doesn’t realize that changes affect comprehensive plan. Language used is outdated—urban renewal; slums, etc. Should reflect language of current comprehensive plan—preservation; diversity; sustainability.

ET: Unique that have Article 7 in charter. Likes it—important in community to recognize what is important about the planning process and how a comprehensive plan could be adopted; establishes a section of charter that takes a lot more work to change than an ordinance. Section 3 is weakest. Difficult to indicate how something is implemented, but important to do it and have it.

  1. Questions from commissioners:

Howard: Fact that no other city or town has this in their charter—in favor of comprehensive plan. Not sure that city complies with it. Meetings on it—same 30 people showed up. No one is accountable as to whether follows the comprehensive plan. Does it belong there? If so, needs to be accountable. Some language is very specific to issues of the times.

THM: Yes, even though part is obsolete. Comprehensive plan is useful when updated from time to time; obligation by Planning Department to report to City Council. Need to do more to follow the charter.

GM: Agree with Ted. If not using, take it out. Important to have it in the charter. Problem is that there is no penalty for violating it.

ML: Listened to fellow panelists, is persuaded that it is a good idea to have some reference to comprehensive plan in charter. What is there is not well-written. If goes to put in at all, should be broad based—hesitant to put in reporting requirements since it’s too detailed. What do with plan depends on staff and elected officials—in charter is getting too much in weeds.

AT: need to establish a framework of what want city to do—not how to do it. Should say who prepared Comprehensive Plan.

Josh: Is there a way to have staff be more responsive through the charter or a different way?

ML: As a City Council, benefit from City Clerk’s office. Really do not have other people who work for them. Planning Department has worked cooperatively—due to people in charge and personalities involved. If trying to balance power more, certainly would enable City Council to have more of its own staff—more benefical to have independent legal advice at times than planning advice. Having two planning departments might be a poor use of city resources—frankly an exercise in good faith by all.  Maybe Director of Planning be a joint appointment between executive and legislative? Need to think more about it.

GM: In other communities where George has experience, working for an elected body—the special permit granting body. City Council can’t do here. Planning decisions have to be based in policy—responsibility of legislative body. Administration is responsibility of executive body. Planning staff is responsible to executive in Newton—difficult to crack, but useful to consider how to balance that better.

THM: wouldn’t go looking for problems. City Council relies upon professional advice, but serve in a quasi-judicial branch. Could consider a city-manager/city council form of government that would change this. Do get a chance to approve the new planning director—don’t reject often, but does happen. Way it works now is fairly well. Have gone against the advice of both the planning and law departments. Doesn’t see this as a problem.

ET: felt that was able to bridge the gap in his experience—ability to work with all the people. Idea of putting this into a charter doesn’t make sense. Indicate that the planning department gives a report to special permit granting authority—not through the charter, but through the ordinance. Staff has to provide the professional expertise. Key is that the elected officials are making the policy—not the staff people. State law provision allows for planning board to hire outside consultants with special expertise to use in certain instances when don’t have that type of staff on board.

CH: have a clear chain of command; mayor nominates, council approves; duties of planning director is to provide advice and support to council. There is a balance and good responsiveness—in ordinance.

Bryan: Agree that some outdated practices or provisions. Better to remove or fix them?

ML: better off being more general; concept of comprehensive plan is good—need to provide more detail and flesh it out. Not necessarily substitute other words—keep broad principles and concepts that can stand the test of time.

THM: agree, but need accountability on comprehensive plan. Maybe not a written report, but acknowledgement that council is policy-making body.

GM: Look in detail at Chapter 22 in city ordinances—much in there that doesn’t need to be duplicated. Might find things in there general enough to add to the city charter. Article 7 doesn’t have to be that comprehensive but does need to be clear and strong.

Howard: Not unreasonable to ask for a formal or informal report to ask where are in regards to comprehensive plan. Otherwise keeps rolling over—same issues keep coming up over and over. Are we serious about a plan? If so, then someone has to be accountable.

Brooke: Although have a comprehensive plan, it is largely ignored except when occasionally a request for a special permit comes in with reference to it. Anyone feel that in addition to comprehensive plan, put in charter that a master plan be developed?

ET: State law takes care of that—can add it to the city charter, but don’t need to. Takes a long time in government to do things, but need to keep eye on goals—master plan does that. Has to stay up with the times—implementation is what makes the success of the plan.

THM: strategic plan; Mayor has created one. Our lack of provision of requiring it doesn’t give us much incentive. If in the charter, gives us incentive.

GM: Need community involvement—can write it all down but won’t be implemented unless have person who can advocate and community calls for it. Maybe Collins Center knows how this is done elsewhere.

ML: community engagement—huge proponent of idea that public involved in process. Looking at audience here tonight—see 20 people, some are elected officials. Discussions about future of city government—while want to encourage community engagement, recognize getting only a very small subset of public. This has to weigh in to the decisions you make.

Public Comment:

Lisle Baker: land use benefits from knowledge of City Councilors—often have neighborhood impacts that Planning Department might not be aware of; special permit process has been helpful and useful. Hesitant about enshrining comprehensive plan in city charter. Important that if add something, want flexibility to do what you need to do. Shouldn’t constitutionalize everything that goes on in city by putting it in the charter. Already is statement in ordinance that Planning Director already advises the City Council. Charter should really just have the framework—don’t want to put too much structure in there. Legislative remedies that don’t require constitutional remedy—even regarding public input. Most public comment times are empty—thinks its because most people think are working OK.

Kathleen Hobson: housing advocate, have 3 comments:

  1. like that planning department and comp plan required in charter; without them could become victim of short-term decision making.
  2. Require planning department report to City Council and Mayor on progress with respect to long-term goals.
  3. Some guidance as to who should make special permit decisions and land use
  4. Land use decision should not be political—should do what we can to depoliticize them and make them more rational.

Nathanial Wicken: support keeping comprehensive plan in the charter. Look at mandating updating it. As written now, doesn’t have to be updated. Need to be a living document to benefit the city—need some mandated review process.

Lynn Weissberg: concur with Kathleen Hobson. One of the assumptions that lead to the opinions expressed tonight—special permit decisions are inherently political. Then other opinion is that they shouldn’t be political decisions. Question then is to look at that: if the decision to be made is to apply rules—that is not a political decision. That is taking the law and applying it to a set of facts.

ML: this is quite different than a judicial proceeding. A judge is asked to find the facts. Here special permits are discretionary—quasi-judicial—supposed to ask within standards, but then exercise discretion and judgement. That is what is political (not necessarily bad, but involved balancing interests and trying to craft an appropriate resolution.) The councilors are accountable to the voters. Agree with ET—major projects in particular have a political element to it—not just a matter of applying fact and law.

THM: Political is the wrong word—are policy matters. Not averse to electing body who decides.

CH: possible remedy: value in depoliticizing process. Fresh eye on projects that isn’t all technical—separate some projects out for an expert group. Major projects should go to a legislative body.

GM: depends on what you mean by political: public policy decisions.

ET: it’s not black and white—multiple interpretations. Professional planner looks straight at what it there; elected official looks at the decision of whether the facts presented by the professional deserves the discretion for a special permit.

Lisle Baker: quasi-judicial also means legislative; one of values of having a large board is that need 16 affirmative votes to give a permit. Difficult challenge to draw line between major and minor projects—can turn into something more significant than you think.

Karen Manning: remind everyone that Article 7 review on May 25th. Will continue to reach out to councilors in other communities.

Josh: next Charter Commission meeting next Wednesday, 7 p.m.

April 27 CC Meeting Observer Notes

Newton Charter Commission Meeting

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

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

Approval of Minutes: 4 sets of minutes (missing April 12) were approved with minor changes/clarifications

Public Comments:

Jeff Sacks: term limits are very important to good governance—bring new energy and new perspective to Boards. Was on CPC committee and term limited out. Focus on accomplishing something within the term limits. [Q: how about term limits for the Mayor: still a good idea; can get entrenched; good to bring in new ideas.]

Sallee Lipshutz: retain 24 councilors and especially Ward representation. Page 5 of study guide for city council—misses certain points: some have a greater ward representation than at-large; Worcester found wealthier parts were overrepresented; 6766 residents per representative in Newton—67% more than Waltham; not be difficult for an unopposed platform to be elected;

Tom Phillips: served on city’s zoning board of appeals; have a well-run city already—nothing is perfect, but city council decisions represent best for the city; against term limits and four-year terms; not consistent with good representative government; against doing away with Ward Councilors—provide dedication and leadership to neighborhoods—cites examples from Ward 7. Reconsider the straw vote at appropriate time.

Rob Gifford: commend commission on straw vote to reduce the size of city council. It’s cumbersome, difficult to understand and out of step with peer group communities. Believe that Ward councilors are undemocratic—elected by 500-1000 votes, long tenure but move into city-wide leadership roles—undemocratic. Assumed to speak for ward—often don’t and can feel poorly represented. Alumni and current councilors—made clear didn’t see any difference in their approach to the job from at-large aldermen—if so, why need duplication? Local issues can be handle with equal effectiveness by at-large councilors—that is their political base and they live there. Consider term limits—total cap of 12 years including non-consecutive terms. Not everyone pays attention, so can become a permanent job.

Lynn Weissberg: agree with Rob. Saw straw vote on size of City Council—struck by the thoughtfulness that went into the vote; expressed that thinking had evolved over several months. Seeing backlash—urge you to NOT reconsider straw vote. Term limits? Simplicity and ease of understanding should be the watchwords. Staggering terms might not be necessary if it is a manageable number. Imperative to let voters vote in November 17 and have them take effect the next election cycle.

Terry Sarrow: disagree with comment on Ward Aldermen—disrespect to Board for all their hard work. Dedicated, diverse. Will vote no to any changes since feels so strongly about reducing representation to 1 person. No way to do the work.

George Mansfield: re: straw vote on Article 2—terrible recommendation. Former aldermen testified on the role of ward representatives—also described how ward councilors connect villages of Newton to their government. CC hasn’t heard this. The model would threaten the character of Newton. More like a town than cities that CC is comparing it to—are people moving to those communities? Need a majority of 7 to pass items. 5 floating members might all come from two most wealthy wards in the city where people have resources to run a citywide race and then benefit themselves and their neighborhoods.

Will set aside time later for more public comment.

Article II discussion: Working to be completely open and communicative with the public. Does not help when they are accused of conspiring and lying—voters have voted twice to reduce the size of the Board of Aldermen. Straw vote is a preliminary vote based on their consultation, research, discussion ALL in public. If kept 8 Ward Aldermen—have the majority of reps each elected by 1/8 of the electorate. And are the At-large Aldermen not worthy or reliable? People will call those with whom they have a relationship—doesn’t matter their role. Can’t put the importance of the villages in front of the entire city—the city comes first.

Anyone want to reconsider their vote in the straw vote? No one, but feel that there are so many moving pieces—until look at it overall, don’t know if there will be anymore changes. Need to be able to see the whole thing, and then decide if reconsider.

Term Lengths: Look at the scenario for city council term lengths—4 scenarios

One more point: 4 year staggered terms—could be running against Mayor—would need to quit position or run in elections with bigger turnout—found that not a huge jump in mayoral races, unless open seat for Mayor. Vote on contested city council races spike as well when contested Mayoral race.

Discussion:

  • BB: 4 year terms make sense—time to get accustomed to office; different from SC, which have a specific time frame for change—city is slower to change; if stagger, go for simplicity and divide up war at-large and “pooled” at large;
  • KM: 2-year terms are better—consistent with the School Committee, less confusion to the voters—scenario 1; not a lot of lobbying for a 4-year term
  • JF: separate out SC and CC—different missions and decisions; less concerned about election and more about what they do and time it takes to get stuff done. 4 year term better, more able to get stuff done and not focus on election every 2 years
  • JK: ease of which voters can follow and vote is important, but also in quality of city council; being able to pick who you challenge if you don’t like what they are doing; term limits will help, but not having all 5 “pool” candidates is interesting—Scenario 3 enables more targeting of a potential challenger, easily explainable and straightforward, limit contests; scenario 1 might be easier to take
  • BL: not come to a conclusion on the issue—was big fan of staggered terms when talking about maintaining the structure we have now—more than 1 at-larger person per ward. Now that adopted in a straw vote only 1 at-large alderman per ward, so rationale for staggered terms goes away. Remaining rationale is to reduce the number of votes that voters cast—balance that against the argument of simplicity of having everyone run at the same time. Also have issues about who is running with Mayor: Term length—takes a councilor a couple of years to understand how things work balances against real concern about a radical change. Inclination is that, if stay with that change, make as few other changes as possible. Each change has a multiplier effect—“’too radical?” Should focus on size of city council—if don’t find other things terribly important, than leave it. Scenario 1
  • CS: holding accountable of elected officials—2 years should be plenty of time to understand what is going on need regular accountability; scenario 1
  • AL: Scenario 1 or 2—on the fence. 2 has a smaller ballot and keeps truly at-large together (entry for newcomers with a larger pool); pros and cons on 2 v. 4 year terms; 4 years have some positives, but 2 years allows accountability, especially if taking away Ward Councilors—leading toward 2 year terms and term limits.
  • HH: so many cities and towns have 2-year terms. Started that way because serving was a volunteer job, expected/wanted turnover so had a broader view of constituents. If have to campaign the second year—half the seats in Newton are uncontested—keep doing councilors job and run for office. Is this a level playing ground? An incumbent, running unopposed, can raise money, but is a known quantity. 4 years—more experience, better track record (accomplish more?) present better for reelection. Scenario 3.
  • RK: reducing size of the ballot is a big issue; if not informed, either don’t vote or vote uninformed. Means less accountability. 4-year term provides for a chance to move up the learning curve—keep job, family, etc. and run a campaign every two years? Longer time horizon is good. Scenario 2.
  • JF: more time to think about points discussed—perhaps change way she is leaning.
  • BB: persuasive points for scenario 1; need to put together a proposal that can explain easily. If think about term limits, having a 4-year lame duck term is difficult.

Does the Mayoral election into deliberations? Does it matter if run when Mayor runs? Discussion/comments: Is there a way to establish a Mayoral election when someone isn’t running? Need to address whether or not someone can run for more than one office simultaneously. Feels strange that certain wards will always run with Mayor. No sympathy for this problem.

Re-read the strategic goals to try to arrive at idea of priorities in making choice of term lengths. More discussion and group seems to move toward scenario 1.

Chris: motion to take a poll on the scenarios.

1: CS, AL, BB, KM, JF, JK, BL

2: HH, RK

3: none in favor

4: none in favor

Chris: motion to put scenario 1 to a vote. No discussion. Passes 7-2.

Term Limits: do other communities have term limits on city councils? Methuen—3 consecutive 2-year terms for CC and SC. Can take a pause and start again.

  • CS: conflicted on this. Elections are their own term limits, probably still the best way. No term limits. Doesn’t ensure a better candidate will come to the table.
  • AL: yes, for 12 years (6 consecutive terms); going through a lot of election materials in recent weeks; council job is more complex than SC, gives someone enough time to learn the ropes, be engaged, exercise leadership, and then move on.
  • HH: agree with Anne; can become great activists in the community afterwards—good additions to general community; should have been able to accomplish all that wanted to do
  • RK: take power away from voters with term limits, but so does power of incumbency; persuaded by Peter Harrington-sees both sides, but in the end forcing out a few is better, allows new ideas; favor terms limits but 12 or 14 years is preferable.
  • BB: not a fan of term limits; less of a concern at the local level; state and national—lobbyists have the power and knowledge. At local level, less lobbying and staff; complexity isn’t like at the state level. Balance this against info that voters have—can see entrenchment, but also get fresh ideas. Seen appeal at the city level. No SC members are against term limits. For them, but give time to get knowledge. 12-16 is the right range.
  • KM: term limits are beneficial; no shortage of people who would step up; 12 years
  • JF: 12 years—long enough to be effective; then become informal leaders in city—as important as being an elected member of the council.
  • JK: feel similarly; not a fan of term limits, but at municipal level find them persuasive; allow fresh faces, especially if not a lifetime limit; issues before CC take longer than SC, but 12-14 makes sense for city council.
  • BL: don’t favor term limits. Was on CC for 12 years-felt that she contributed most of what she was going to, and it was time to move on. No one ran against her. Did consider this at the 10 year mark—could have gone on. Would have been unhappy if an arbitrary number forced her out. Believe ballot box is the best term limit—encourage competition. New structure will encourage much more candidate response.

Why term limits for SC and not for CC? SC is in favor of them.

Intimidation factor—some won’t run against someone they know. Term limits make that easier.

JF: Motion to have 6 consecutive terms as limit for City Council—consecutive terms, for all councilors. Anne seconded. Anne: since last charter went into effect, have 22 elections. 528 aldermanic seats. Only 63 open seats; 17 times have a seated aldermen been defeated in election. When it happened for SC, will have to reset clock. Can do transitions, so not turning out whole council at once. Vote: 7 in favor, 2 against

In Newton: comptroller reports to City Council. Collins Center—usually reports to Mayor. Under strong Mayor, Mayor has enormous power over finances. Having a comptroller who is responsible to the council offers a certain check and balance. This leaves some measure of power with City Council. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It works well for Newton, no need to change the balance.

Independent legal support for the Council? Collins Center—legally the municipality needs to speak with one voice. Actual legal opinion would be the City law office. Are times when Mayor and Council are at odds over major policy issues—Mayor controls the law department. Find a way for the CC and SC to hire independent counsel to advise those bodies independently—put the authority explicitly in the charter. Question is how it gets paid for—in the CC budget or somewhere else? Needs to be expendable at the demand of the City Council. Brooke will work on this.

Section II-9: Everett prohibited their elected officials from getting health benefits. Some people can only justify their contribution by getting health care. Was concern about tenure and getting it for life. SC never has the opportunity, but City Council does. Benefit has value to some and not others (those who already have healthcare). Would it be better to have a benefits package that is equally beneficial to all?

JF: conflicted because some employees are kept to 19 hours to deny health insurance to some; is this fair to then give it to the CC members. What does this mean to the city financially?

Do we want to address pay and benefits in the charter? Trend—starting to appear. No elected officials are eligible for health insurance. Table this—revisit at a later time.

Charter Objection: Collins Center says fairly standard in city charter.

Marilyn will help with drafting some material.

Commission Schedule: nothing to change; May 4th public hearing at City Hall.

Public Comments:

Ted Hess-Mahan: agree with Brooke on most issues discussed; understand can’t serve as Mayor and hold another office, but someone should be able to run for office without having to give up their seat. Term limits—if want the best people and best democracy, don’t have term limits. No hangers’ on—maybe people you don’t like, but everyone works hard. Find someone to run. New people—almost guarantee two years of mediocrity. Came in to do zoning reform—13 years later am now just working on it—not because hasn’t been effective.

Shawn Fitzgibbons: really lucky, doing a fantastic job and thanks. Support for vote to reduce the size of the City Council; support the city-focused approach; nervous about term limits, but be prepared for public to have opinions on that. No perfect size of Board—no magic number. Support healthcare for elected officials—consider how long to provide that benefit. Should have access to healthcare.

Andrea Kelley: echo Shawn’s thanks. The best organization and group in terms of responsibility and transparency. Talk about representation by Ward Aldermen—lived here since 1979. Never felt that the councilors at large from the ward were not representing her. The balance the new plan achieves a balance—would be well represented. Deliberations have been really thoughtful.

Kathleen Hobson: defended vote in the TAB today. Thought wanted four-year terms—probably still do, but doesn’t feel that there is a simple right answer. Happy to hear what the CC decides. Persuaded by the arguments about term limits. Don’t have zoning reform because have 24 aldermen—different structure might move things along faster.

Rena Getz: best served by independence of comptroller and clerk. Support independent council. Better served if other departments have impartiality. Term limits—best if voters decide. Best to define scope of work and then figure out the number of people required. Current construct of CC is excellent. Ward representation is critical—most accountable. Public outreach is critical for charter review. Need more robust outreach.

Susan Mirsky: pleased about commission; against reducing the size of the City Council; limiting the amount of representation limits the idea of democracy. Not too big—other ways of getting accountability; can others do more to report on our city government; lots of work done in committees—cutting size cuts voice to the committee. As issues become more complex, need more voices. Can get Board more accountable without reducing representation.

Ernest Lowenstein: Doesn’t like the idea of cutting the size of the Board. Fascinated with discussion tonight—length of term. Encouraged, but came to the wrong conclusion.

Charter Commission Meeting Observer Notes 4-13-16

Charter Commission Meeting

April 13, 2016

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

Public Comment:

City Councilor Lisle Baker: Upcoming discussion is about the most important decision they’ll make. Important to focus on what’s going right. Newton is an outlier in many ways, makes us the open community we are. Lots of people participate in lots of ways. Greater efficiency & effectiveness are not the automatic outcome of a smaller council.  A large council has served the city well, will continue to do so.

Ernest Lowenstein – Would like to draw attention to the word “efficient.”  Asks the commission to at least be willing to define it, don’t just throw it around. Democracy is not designed to be efficient.

Matt Hills, chair, School Committee: Current 8 year term limit helps form the culture that makes it the effective body that it is; no one owns it. Troubled by idea that longer limits will ensure more competitive races. Also, there is more history of competitive races than we think. This year, he and Margie Decter Ross will be leaving; 2 strong candidates have emerged. But they wouldn’t likely have emerged or been willing to run against Matt and Margie. Term limits go to the culture of the committee; turnover is good, new blood is good. Wants to see straw vote changed and return to 8-year limit.

Don Ross. Has always felt we should keep council to 24. Never heard a good reason why it should be reduced. In favor because is working well; easier to find a ward or local councilor for constituent services. Also provides more entry points to politics. Wants to be clear there are people just as passionate on the side of keeping a larger council as there are who want to downsize.

Article 4 Draft Discussion:

Begin by looking at draft of article 4 that was sent around. Frantz: great draft. One concern re: term limits. We focused on election, incumbency, opposed elections, etc. Didn’t focus on impact the extension would have on the entire system. More important the vote was 4-2-2, one absent. Not wise to let a very important decision stand when it didn’t pass with a majority vote, wants to table that vote and return to issue.

Steele concurs. Was absent for vote, is concerned re discussion, thinks we don’t have enough data to feel comfortable concurring with it. Return when discussing term limits in general?

Larner: we know the topic will arise again, and there is some connectedness between term limits between the two bodies. Might be good to save, look at the pieces together. There is a system, worth looking at the whole.

Barash, Manning also agree would like to leave for now and return to the discussion when discussing term limits in general.  Kidwell, echoes Larner, and Barash, and Manning.

Frantz: wants to be sure have a really robust discussion, re specifics of the school committee in particular.

Barash: asks if Frantz is saying there are factors we didn’t consider at last discussion? If so, please tell the commission what those are before we return to the discussion; Frantz said yes, there are, and she will get that information out.

Krintzman notes he added placeholder language in the draft re: date of residence in the instance of filling a vacancy.

Discussion of the language in 4.1a “The school committee shall be the judge of the election and qualification of its members.” Krintzman sees it as a final check – if the school committee isn’t the ultimate arbiter of who’s a member of its body, then who should be?  Election commission certifies the vote, but they couldn’t and shouldn’t be the body that judges, say, that a member should be disqualified because of some conduct unbecoming or something – confer how the Massachusetts House once removed of its own.

Article 2 Discussion – Led by Rhanna Kidwell and Howard Haywood

Haywood: we all recognize how important this section is, and that there’s a need for careful consideration. Struck by Penta’s comment [at last night’s meeting where there was testimony from legislators from surrounding communities] asking what prompted this charter review. If asked most people, they would say it’s about the size of the council.

We’ve looked at benchmark cities; the model cities recommendations. Those give lots of reasons why a smaller board works best, and also that is should be an odd number.  So, we need to consider at that, consider what we’ve hear from constituents, and also consider how we assess the performance of our existing Council. We should seek empirical evidence that change would improve matters. He notes that we are way outside the norm for the whole country –  not just our benchmark cities.

What are some of the reasons why people think should be smaller? With 24 members, relatively easy for someone elected repeatedly but not contributing much to just float; not accountable. Also, In Newton, having 24 to vote for at a time contributes to bullet voting; if you look at the actual records, can see it happens.

Kidwell: we also need to be clear about terminology: what we call “at large” is not the usual meaning of the term: we have “at large by ward.”

Suggestion, and agreement, to go around table, let each commissioner speak:

Frantz: We need to set priorities. Accountability to voters keeps rising to the top. Her priority is to look for a scenario that best keeps councilors accountable.

Lipsett: hears issue of accountability as important. Her own opinion about size of board has varied a lot. When she was a member, she felt v strongly should retain 24 because she wanted everyone to know an alderman they could go to, and the large number preserved the best access to the board. As communications have improved, with reverse 911, 311 calls, lobby operators – she feels that is less critical. Also, she doesn’t care how long meetings run – that’s the council’s choice; they can control things, and adjust things if meeting length is a problem.  Sure, once every year or two there is an Austin St debate, and the public gets very annoyed with meeting length etc.  But, that was a really important debate for the community: a long debate was a GOOD thing.  Feels it’s important not to base a decision on the occasional, hardest instances. On other hand, re accountability, more convinced as time goes by that having 2 at large councilors run simultaneously is not a good idea. Leaning toward 4 year terms for at-large, alternating, so no one gets free ride against the incumbent. Wants every race to be contested every time – that’s her goal in life. But it doesn’t encourage competition when have 2 incumbents against a challenger. That has become the key issue to her.

Barash: when first heard about Charter Commission, wondered why we should have one. All seems to work reasonably well etc. But as he examined things, it became clear there were a lot of people who felt things were not working well. During campaign, as he knocked on lots of doors, he frequently found a visceral reaction to size of board, that Newton is an outlier, large number doesn’t seem necessary.  Reading model charter and recommendations for charter commissions was struck by how strongly the commentary favors trying to get a smaller board, with at-large representation whenever possible. Seems clear these people, who’ve spent a lot of time researching, really think that’s the ideal.  Doesn’t mean they’re right, but worth considering.

Manning: appreciates Barash’s historic perspective on his own evolution through the campaign process. Entered without preconceptions, truly. Have heard so much persuasive and heartfelt testimony from important, wise people in community, but have started to form instincts. At-large-by-ward representation strikes an important balance for our city. Believes in term limits. Unambiguous data supports having smaller board – very clear we are outlier, other places have well designed systems to take care of business better. If put more focus on that – on staff etc to run city better: clearly can be done well. At same time, on her work reviewing the School Committee, can understand arguments that Newton is unique, don’t conform to other communities. Respects that point: Newton is special.

Krintzman: Many thanks to Haywood, Kidwell for the hard work and excellent information they’ve provided. Have heard from lots of people – hearings, emails, etc.  & commission has  obligation to represent the people, and to let people choose their government. One big part here is what the role of the council is. Lot of conceptions. Constituent services is one part. Though as an FYI charter commission already limited constituent service role of council in review of article 11. It was sense of commission that constituent services had a place, but not necessarily as big as some think. Clearly no single right answer. Debate is good. Whatever we do will be unhappy people. Our obligation is to provide very clear reasoning for decisions we come up with. Jobs city council does can be done with fewer people, and still preserve people’s access to the council and councilors. Can certainly come up with a way to represent the whole city, with fewer people. Then council could hone its responsibilities.

Steele: echo and expand on Krintzman. We were elected to represent, but also to bring experience, expertise to table. Re geographic representation – in communities where he’s worked where parts of a community aren’t adequately represented is clearly a bad outcome. At-large-by-ward really helps. Re: having 2 at large per ward, not only does that make it easier for someone to skate by, but, as former candidate, most people assume you are going after one or the other of the sitting people: great misunderstanding of how the system works; few know they can vote for 2.  Core principal is to create clarity about how the system functions – and accountability for elected officials. Still need conversation about actual role. Can’t rely on councilors to take up failings of city’s ‘customer service’ function – really masks a deficiency in the system, need to be careful of that.

Kidwell: did come with biases: she undertook signature campaign, obviously wanted to see change. But truly committed to seeing what voters wanted. Did a tally of comments: out of 55,000 voters in Newton, 43 people have weighed in. In favor of status quo: 19; downsize: 24. Arguments for status quo most speak re: importance of accessibility, opportunity for more to participate.  Proponents of downsizing speak more strongly, and there are more of them. Voters have repeatedly asked for smaller council, it’s time to give them the option to vote bindingly for that. Also large number of people who’ve served on council to agree we don’t need 24: that speaks really loudly. Not persuaded downsizing would increase workload. Current structure makes job unattractive to many candidates (long meetings, large group).  Size of ballot absurd, doesn’t increase participation, accountability, etc. Also no clear mandate when have 2 people from each ward, who’s running against who/what.  Almost more bothered by composition — 3 per ward just makes no sense. Automatically leads to redundancy. No one in state – probably not in country – does that.  Putting more people on a job than you need is built-in redundancy, just wasteful. Support some councilors truly at-large – just running for office, not against a specific person. Re ward councilors – everyone says job shouldn’t be different if ward vs at-large-by-ward, so why the distinction? School committee members all say they prefer being accountable to whole city.

Larner: not part of LWVN movement; skeptic about having a charter commission. Started doing a lot of reading, talking over summer. Has learned a lot, head has moved over past 8-9 months. Probing deeper re size of board. Consistent thread from active community members: that complexity of ballot and system is consistent theme.  It can be easy to pass off complaints and say people just aren’t trying to understand things, but heard from so many people who are active and respected, really have to listen.  The undervotes is a fallout from that complexity. Even if you look at which ward appears last on ballot you see fewer votes…!  From that piece alone, something has to be done to make ballot simpler, more accessible. To encourage participation. And to also give people who are interested a sense of the lines of accountability. On the other hand, issue is effectiveness. Not so concerned about efficiency – but effectiveness is the question.  Is a smaller body more effective? After lot of reading, comparing, listening: comes down that a lot of evidence shows that less than 24 would probably be far more effective. Also believes shouldn’t be too prescriptive re: constraining powers; let the council decide for itself. Broad geographic representation is important; open to some truly at-large, but do want also at-large-by-ward.

Haywood: last speaker. When came to run, considering whether his biases would prevent having an open mind, still concerned as began process. But as began, less concerned.  Austin St. process – some people say size of board created a better process, hear more ideas. He thinks size made the process redundant – could have same community input, same meetings etc but 24 people to make decision didn’t mean better discussion or argument.  Having a lot of different voices didn’t add any value – in his opinion. In fact, with a smaller board with strong opinions would have made process work better. Newton is an outlier, sure, but really, we’re just people like everyone else.  We shouldn’t be holding on to our notions of being so special. “we’re Newton” doesn’t make us better – makes us stagnant.  Takes too long to get things done. Smaller, 4-year terms, staggered; have term limits, or not — be consistent with school committee.  Are we proud of a dysfunctional system??  When we tell other people about our system, they don’t think we’re special, they think we’re nuts! We should be arguing about what we want from our gov’t. Responsibility of ward vs at-large have no difference in responsibilities.  If a ward councilor were only considering my ward, I wouldn’t vote for him: I want them to have same interest in other wards. That’s how we make a better city! You can tell votes are frequently purely political — can hide in the 24. Wants people to speak their mind. If different from constituents, fine – stand on it.  Tons of respect for Lisle, but just doesn’t convince me should stay w status quo.

Krintzman: could make a motion; or Kidwell and Haywood have identified composition, could talk about that.

Frantz: wants to say important to have at-large-by-ward, but only 1 per ward. 4 year terms allows to stagger, helps shrink ballot.  Very concerned that with such a large board it’s easy to “slip through the cracks,” when that happens, people aren’t held accountable .

Lipsett: her concern about reducing size has been how exactly you do it: the balance between the ward representation and the at-large. How reduce size without changing the weight, the preponderance of citywide over ward.  Preference for combo of true at large and at-large-by-ward – scenario D. Not sure of number truly at large. Has thought one approach is to reduce number of wards, say to 5, but just gets too complicated, don’t want to change wards.  Thinking more, some portion, not a majority, truly at large is the way to go. Last night, there was a question re truly at-large people: did it get focused on one location – did one geographic area get too much power? Doesn’t seem to be the case.

Barash: feeling similarly – scenario D. Clearly not A; a number originally though B maybe, but it seems no longer right. With 8 wards, a proper balance will require a larger number of at-large, should be at least 4 or 5.

Manning: scenario D, with 13 total.

Krintzman: prefers truly at-large for whole council, but in the end, leans most toward D. Has come to point where 1 per ward at large is great, but not whole council – add others truly at large.

Steele: also scenario D.

Kidwell: scenario D.  Willing to consider E, but the downside but somehow that adds layer of confusion, just not great.

Larner: exactly. Parts of E nice, but too complex, and point is to reduce complexity. Wants D.

Haywood: Scenario D.

Frantz: leans to D. questioning effect of 3-5 at large – 3 vs 5.

Barash: have been thinking something specifically bad about the 2 at large, when a 3rd person runs – more poisonous. Not as much an issue with a larger pool. Much better understanding of how it works, that it is a pool – than way it currently works.

Lipsett: delighted to see coming to consensus so easily.

Kidwell: before making a motion, let’s go ahead and spell out the specifics re: number of at-large.

Frantz: concerned about 3: might favor certain wards. Just a supposition. Larner conflicted. 13 feels right. But concerned that a larger number increases risk there could be a geographic cluster. What tends to happen with pools is a challenger will ask voters to bullet vote. Much easier for a challenger to actually get elected when in group of 5, not 3.

Krintzman: if 3, even if all 3 from one ward, still aren’t in the majority.  If we have more than 5, that does become a possibility.

Lipsett: likes 7. Larger number would improve frequency of turnover – more opportunity to break in. But sees issue of unlikely but possible geographic cluster coming to dominate means leans back to 5.

Haywood: moves to adopt D, with 5 at large. Lipsett seconds. Krintzman caveat: this is based on assumption we keep 8 wards.

Lipsett: only reason we looked at changing # of wards was if going all by wards, to get to the right numbers.  And would push any change out to 2020 census. Let’s leave the wards alone.  General agreement.

Barash: 5 people at large, risk of clustering: doesn’t think necessarily a bad thing, an ill-intended cluster just isn’t going to last for long.  And fine if happen to have cluster of people who voters like… self-correcting.

Vote: 9 in favor, 0 against.

Move on to Eligibility, length of term, term limits.

Go around table again.

Barash: typically inclined against term limits, but thru these conversations and talking w voters, is a strong appeal at local level. Lot of people aren’t as engaged.  Clear consensus we want to keep term limits for school committee, which plays into it. Don’t think they should be wildly different. Council could have a somewhat longer terms perhaps, but similar. Something along lines of last meeting’s vote, ie. 12 years total.

Krintzman: staggering terms helps with ballot. If stagger, probably want 4-year terms. Can see wisdom in 4-yr staggered terms, allowing more directed opportunity to vote for fewer positions. Definitely argument for imposing term limits: have heard a lot of good info. If went for 4 years, 12 seems about right. Acknowledges if we do alter or impose new term limits, need to discuss transition, how to deal with incumbents. But not a huge problem. Surprised to say wants term limits on city council

Steele – unsure about term limits.

Kidwell – [observer had to leave room].  Supports 4 years staggered terms.

Larner – leans toward term limits, 4-year staggered.

Haywood: 5, 4-year terms, 20 years total.

Frantz: definitely term limits. This day and age, only time we see contested elections and strong candidates is when seats are open. Don’t have a number, open to suggestions. If do staggered, it’s a concept, wants to see models, test things out.

Lipsett: dislikes term limits intensely. Staggered terms: strong proponent of 4-yr staggered terms if we maintained 24.  With new structure, needs to rethink. 4-year terms fine. Wants to hear from members of council – some have said that first year or 2 is a steep learning curve, and then having to mount a campaign so soon, really tough.  Likes competition. Spent time today on city website looking at last 8 municipal elections (that’s what’s available).  To surprise, turnover on school committee no greater than for council, which has no term limits. Not sure term limits really help. Did quickly, not a deep analysis, but expected much greater turnover as percentage of school committee vs council. Not sure if goal is to promote turnover that this is the way to go.

Barash: in terms of staggering, makes sense that it would just be the pool of 5; the 8 wouldn’t run in the same election.  Mayor + 5; other year, council and school committee, one per each ward.  Much interest from whole commission in idea of separating truly at-large from ward-based. Also, given they have such strong consensus on this issue, it changes some other conversations; incumbent upon us to reach out again to community, experts and ask again, given this current context.

Krintzman: Takes Kidwell’s point re term limits taking power away from voters, limiting pool of candidates. Currently school committee limits only consecutive term– not lifetime.  Happens to like that – gives more power back to voters. Wants to add that to council, too. Many councilors concurred.

Lipsett – concerned about making it too difficult to move between the two bodies and/or between ward-based and at-large.

Krintzman: asks Kidwell, Haywood to put together set of options re staggered terms/length of terms/overlap of offices.

Haywood wants to discourage people flopping back and forth between at large/ward-based.

General agreement that we don’t want incumbents to have a favored position… Everyone wants to see and think about scenarios.

—————-

Calendar:

May 4 –  re: planning, testimony from officials from other communities. Public comment/hearing too?

Add’l meeting: May 18th: wrap up article 3 & 4, Rm 205, 7pm. Also discuss city manager form of gov’t, and term limits.

 

Respectfully submitted by Lisa Mirabile

Charter Commission Meeting Observer Notes 4-6-16

Charter Commission Meeting

April 6, 2016

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

Public Comment:

Sue Flicop: Citizens’ Assistance Officer for City Council? Ombudsman for School Department

Susie Heyman: retain 2-year terms—keep them accountable to the public; thinking about term limits—isn’t equitable between City Council and SC—term limits for each group might be helpful, provide a good mix of energy, good for the city, keep things open, make it possible for people to run. Discussion point about what happens if a SC member moved out of the ward—could they continue to serve? Doesn’t think that is a good idea—if retain 2-year terms, people are elected at-large. Clean up residency language—happy if there is an exact date for residency requirement.

Sallee Lipshutz: charter should show that if any schools are closed, they should be leased, not sold—regardless of whether the school population decline is permanent or temporary.

Claire Sokoloff: support of term limits for School Committee and City Council. Researched the topic and observed local government in action. SC is better off due to term limits—does take time to get up to speed. 8 or 10 years gives time for ample productive contributions. Was difficulty to separate—facilitated departure and bring new people in. Allowed Claire to use her skills and knowledge in other ways. Found term limits weaken hold on power and facilitate democracy. Advantages of incumbency—fundraising and reluctance to take on the “establishment.” Low turnover on our City Council—people rarely voluntarily leave. Resistance by office holders to new thinking—do the voters really decide? Hold Council to same standard as SC—not sure of perfect number, but feel that democracy is enhanced by term limits.

Margaret Albright: in favor of finding way to stagger terms of SC members. Dangerous to have possibility of all 8 SC members be new. Please stagger the terms.

Minutes to be approved: all approved.

Article 3 Discussion: preserve strong Mayor form of government with 4 year term

Motion by Jane: retain strong Mayor form of government. Some discussion about support for other forms of government. Several members felt that there isn’t the support in the community for a city manager form of government—big change but not willing to pursue at this time. Disappointed that Charter Commission hasn’t spent any time talking about the pros and cons or why the city should stay as it is. Plan to come back and discuss this more explicitly? No more discussion on Article 3 until ready to talk about city manager form of government. Motion failed. Jane: table discussion of form of government until a later date when can have a more robust discussion. Motion passed.

Article 4 Discussion: Role of SC has changed so dramatically over time. Various perspectives about how article should be written: sparely or more language to reflect core values of NPS. Propose language from existing documents; propose adding in language from mission statement in two places; recommend that revised charter continue to include a section on new school buildings.

Review of data: from Collins Center, interviews of current and past SC members (members of a 30-year period)

Section 4-1a: Modify first sentence as written in annotated article for discussion. Most SC members across the state are at large. Current SC members unanimously felt that the current method of at-large election but residency requirements was the best method. Many felt that the size should not go beyond 8, plus we have 8 wards. This is unique to Newton, and the current members feel that it works for them. Like geographical representation. Possible model of adding on a few extra truly at-large SC members wasn’t discussed, though felt that shouldn’t go beyond 8. Even with former SC members, felt that 8 is a good size, and that the current method of election is working.

Have someone from City Council as ex officio—with or without a vote? Allow them to work more closely together. Was discussed—one person cannot be liaison between the City Council and SC. Needs to be worked on by a team of people.

Ombudsman? Not in the charter, though would be good for the School Department to have.

Section 4-1b: felt that people should be able to read the charter and know if they are eligible and what they need to do—shouldn’t have to go to the state website.

Current charter: if move while serving in office, can continue to still serve. Elected by entire city, will continue to serve the entire city. Special election is unnecessary.

Defining residency: has been defined by Massachusetts courts. Leave that and then focus on date for residency. Don’t give “the day papers are available” since that can change from year to year. Much better to pick a date. Is Election Day too late? Maybe when filing of signature papers are due or somewhere around there…July 1st? Approved.

Section 4-1c:

  • Most communities have a term length of 2 years. Strong consensus from interviews to keep it to 2 years. Running for office is difficulty, but is a necessary part of the job. Helps to communicate with electorate—forces elected officials to keep in contact with constituents. Able to challenge someone every two years and not wait for 4.
  • Think about terms for SC, for City Council, and for Mayor. See argument for longer terms for City Council, especially if staggered terms.
  • Reality is that still get few challengers…going to four year terms eliminates risks of drastic turnover—loss of institutional knowledge and few people would qualify to serve as chair. Also can stagger terms, shorten ballot.
  • How would staggering work—certain wards will be in certain years—some would always run with the Mayor and others wouldn’t. Four year terms seems like a very long time, especially when have children in the school system.
  • Bigger constituency than just parents of students in the schools.
  • Question for Collins Center: any research on whether term length or staggered elections brings out more people and stimulate participation/turnover? Since advent of 4-year term for Mayor, off-year elections have low turnout. Have a lot more uncontested races. Attract different candidates if have a 4-year term.
  • Big boost in turnout is when Mayor’s seat is open, not just contested. 16K for Mayoral elections; 8k for non-Mayoral elections; overrides 32% and 47%. Not everyone votes in all the other contests when the Mayor is running.
  • Two-year terms compel you to run again—don’t feel you’ve been as effective as you could be. Might not run after 4-year term.
  • Smaller the elected body, the more important to have turnover. Current system seems to be working. Maybe extend the number of terms. Eight years seems doable—if extend it longer, might find people might leave earlier.
  • Also SC member play a part in education discussions around the state. Longer terms means they have more input/influence.
  • Motion to retain 2-year term lengths. Passed 5-2.
  • Motion to remove term limits. Fails for lack of a second.
  • Motion to retain the 8-year term limit. Motion to amend it to 12 years. Discussion on proposed amendment: observe that SC members are not challenged because someone will wait out the SC members. So make the term limits long enough to make it more tempting for people to challenge sitting SC members. Discussion—how to encourage more people to contest seats? Vote on amendment: 5-2. Now motion is to change the term limits to 12-years. Vote: 4-2-2 Final result: recommend term limits of 12 years.

Section 4-2a: recommend accept Collins Center language with the exception about the terms. SC chair is officially chosen on Swearing In Day in a public session—usually same as vote taken informally in a November caucus with new SC.   Does this comply with the law or is this circumventing the law by calling it a caucus? Decision is basically made before the SC members are sworn into office. Has been looked at by AG and abides by the Open Meeting Law.

Comfortable with possibility of Mayor being chair of SC? Is not prohibited in charter. Is unlikely to be an issue—no need to put it in the charter.

Section 4-2b: no change or deliberation.

Section 4-2c: suggest accept Collins Center alternative provision. One change—an “and” left out. Discussion about putting a time limit on updating policies—concern that putting an unnecessary burden on staff.

Section 4-3:

  • Used language from Ed Reform Act as closely as possible, but made specific to Newton. Divergence from Collins Center recommendations—very different approaches. Whatever language is chosen, like format from proposed part.
  • Mission statement can be revised by SC—maybe refer to mission statement, but not put in exact wording. Change so reflect this reference without the specific language.
  • Collins recommendation (ii)—“making all reasonable rules and regulations etc.”—is part of requirements of Ed Reform. If going to capture 80% of Ed Reform act in charter, should add all of it. Should reflect laws that the SC has to work under.
  • If something is in Ed Reform laws, it already rules. SC must work with those—so why have it in the charter? Put things in if we want to modify or expand something or if we want to emphasize something. Put it in to be a comprehensive document for city government. Any resident can read it and basically know how things work.

Section 4-4: Revisions to reflect current process and add new principles. SC determines when a new school building/major renovation is necessary. SC approves the educational specification for new building. Comply with state guidelines. Representation from SC will serve on committee on constructions/renovation.

Comments: Not consistent with two-year terms. What is SC is off SC but a rep to a construction project that could last more than 2 years. Part of the process—if unhappy with project, person might be voted off. Rep is not involved in planning, designing, etc. of new building.

Section 4-5: Stays in—comparable one in Article 2 (was dropped from Article 11). Either needs to stay here or be transferred to 11.

Add principle of not holding a second elective office when already holding seat on SC (two office simultaneously). State law focused on two compensated offices—insert that we don’t allow them to hold two offices even if uncompensated. Motion goes under prohibition or eligibility? Will look into where it belongs.

Motion: Add language into Article 11 that no elected official in newton can simultaneously hold elective office, including charter commission. Collins Center: Barnstable has a similar provision, specifically related to Charter Commission. Add this to the list of things to address….

Section 4-6: table this discussion to talk about when fresh—don’t leave it to late in the meeting.

Calendar: pick up loose ends in June—when some open meetings are planned. Discussion about how/when to address Article 2—move other topics back or stick to schedule? Decided not to change calendar right now—will discuss in future.

Finances: Monday night budget approved by Finance Committee.

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