FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 1, 2015
League of Women Voters of Newton Announces Charter Commission Petition Success
The League of Women Voters of Newton has been notified by David Olson, Newton’s City Clerk, that the charter reform petition has met the threshold of 15% of registered voters. 8,374 signatures from the petition have been certified as legitimate.
As a result, on Election Day, November 3rd, 2015, Newton residents will have the opportunity to vote on the question “Shall a commission be elected to revise the charter of Newton?” On the same ballot, voters will vote for up to nine candidates to serve on the commission. If the “yes” vote carries, the nine candidates with the most votes become the commission. The commission will have 18 months to review and propose changes to Newton’s charter. Before a revised charter can be adopted, it must be approved by Newton voters at the city-wide election in November of 2017.
A city’s charter functions like a constitution. It specifies a city’s form of government, including the size and composition of its city council and school committee, powers and duties of officials and certain city departments, term lengths, term limits, and checks and balances.
The charter commission is a well-tested process under Massachusetts state law that is designed to allow cities and towns to pursue charter reform without the involvement of the mayor or the city council. According to the mass.gov website, 180 charter commissions have been elected in Massachusetts since the legislation was enacted in 1966, and 37 have been elected in the last 15 years. (mass.gov/dor/local-officials/dls-newsroom/ct/charting-a-route-for-charter-change.html )
The League of Women Voters of Newton launched its signature drive in November of 2012. Fifty volunteers have devoted roughly 500 hours to the effort. In addition, approximately 15% of the total certified signatures were collected by a group of citizens led by Tom Sheff, Alan Dechter, and Miles Fidelman.
Forty-four years have passed since Newton’s charter has been substantially revised. Newton’s last charter commission concluded in 1971, and it resulted in Newton’s present charter. Before 1971, Newton had a two-year term for mayor, there was no override of the mayor’s veto, and vacancies in the office of Alderman or School Committee were filled by a vote of the Board of Aldermen. The 1971 charter brought us a four-year term for mayor, an override of the mayor’s veto, and special elections to fill vacancies created in the first 15 months of a term. The 1969-71 charter commission also resulted from a League-led petition.
The League’s decision to pursue charter reform again after 44 years came after a comprehensive, year-long study of Newton’s charter that concluded in 2010. Thirty-four League members participated in the study, which compared Newton’s charter to the charters of 11 benchmark communities, as well as to the Model City Charter, published by the National Civic League. Study members interviewed officials from the benchmark towns, met with a charter expert employed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and researched charter commissions from ten Massachusetts towns dating back to 1999.
The study identified significant opportunity for improvement to Newton’s government. The League supports downsizing our 24-member Board of Aldermen/City Council—cities Newton’s size in Massachusetts have an average of 11 members on the city council. The League also supports shifting to four-year, staggered terms for City Councilors and School Committee members, to reduce the number of contests in each city-wide election—Newton voters presently have to elect 25 officials every two years.
The LWVN encourages interested Newton residents to consider running for charter commission. The League believes that successful charter reform is dependent on Newton electing commissioners who are open-minded to the reform possibilities offered by the charter commission process. Commissioners will need to engage with the public to gather input and feedback, and they will need to set the tone of constructive and respectful dialogue.
The League also encourages all Newton residents to participate in the charter reform process, by staying informed, attending meetings, and advocating for change.
The League is planning a public forum on the charter commission process in general. The forum will conclude with information on the responsibilities and commitment of serving on a charter for commission, for those who might have an interest in running.
The League of Women Voters, founded in 1920, is a non-partisan political organization that encourages the active and informed participation of citizens in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.
For more information on Newton charter reform, see our Charter Commission Initiative page.