Charter Commission Meeting
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Attending: Josh Krintzman, Chris Steele, Rhanna Kidwell, Anne Larner, Howard Haywood, Jane Frantz, Karen Manning, Bryan Barash, Brooke Lipsitt
Approval of Minutes: February 10th, February 29th, March 1st and March 2nd—(latter two were smaller meetings with members of the School Committee)—approved with small changes
Ernest Lowenstein: questions on Article 3: section 3-3, part B: doesn’t understand “and”—shouldn’t be “or?” Section 3-6: distinction between temporary and interim appointments? Didn’t see anything, but in practice seem different. Section 3-2: communications—“from time to time” is too indefinite, need more precision on when Mayor should report. Paragraph B (same section) there is an opportunity for Mayor to abuse that power (though hasn’t)…maybe language should be changed?
Article 11 Straw Vote:
Changes: 11-2: under subsection B, #1, assistance to constituents—do we need to clarify what a constituent is? Add “if constituent requests” about directing staff person.
11-4: “Revisions” should be plural; “recodification” should be singular. “Reenactment” should be enactment.
11-10: Language is extremely complex—can we simplify? Current language will revert to current law, and allows for charter to be in compliance with current MGL if it gets updated. But…easier language would be more approachable. Collins Center: is more standard language. Discussion led to general agreement to not change this language.
11-13: Will be moving to Article 1
11-12: Reorder some words, but doesn’t change the meaning. Subsection E: use the most recent edition of Roberts’ Rules of Order.
- Based on a letter from Greg Smith—issue with a gag order in an agreement with the School Committee. Should there be a general statement of support for the first amendment—opportunity to make a values statement. Maybe put in section 1? Consult with Ouida Young on this first.
- Section 11-11: last sentence—change to ‘if the period “is” 7 days.’
- Bryan will bring up issue of public comment—will do so in future when have specific language to discuss.
- Add definition of term “rules and regulations” and possible other words/phrases (in Article 1 as well.)
Straw Vote: Brooke made a motion to approve with edits as it, Bryan seconded. Approved unanimously.
Article 3-1: Document has questions and proposed answers.
- What is optimal term? Should there be a term limit for Mayor? Discussion: A lot of communities have 2-year terms, but 4 years hasn’t been a problem in Newton. Recommendation is to stick with 4 year term. Research hasn’t shown a big change in turnout every two years; will also consider term limits for other offices, so maybe think about them all in conjunction. Other communities have a weak Mayor form of government, so the person is chosen by the legislature.
- Change office itself? City Manager or part-time Mayor? Maybe define role of COO in charter? Discussion: Have had someone in that role for decades…how would having something in the charter be different from practical experience? Provides opportunity to define it and include things like qualifications and roles and responsibilities—broad or more specific. Will serve at pleasure of the Mayor but a defined role to take some of the administrative work off the Mayor. Should CC define how Mayor staffs executive branch at all? Maybe other structures? Many charter specify structure…most Mayors in Newton are career politicians—this doesn’t hurt the city. Is this more of a values statement? What value does this add? Could add language that isn’t role-specific? Could make it optional, but then why have it in charter? But if does, then spells out role.
- Executive Salary specified? No, leave as is, set by ordinance.
- Is the Citizen’s Assistance Officer required? No.
- Think about the COO only.
- Outlines goals or standards of CAO without specifying a particular officer? This will be included in statement of values about communication, openness and responsiveness. See this as a response to something happening at the time the charter item was added—is there a reason for it? If eliminate it, is there a way to ensure that this action happens? Roles—some complaints, some requests. Does this need to be codified in the charter? [Josh and Chris will come up with language on COO, and discuss at a later time.
- Article needs to correspond with 3-11.
- Should appointees to Boards and Commissions be from legislative and executive branch. Most charters have executive branch appointments. Could divide it up—advisory Boards have appointments from other places, but those with authority are just appointed by the Mayor. As an example, if there is a separate planning board, might be more palatable if have appointments from both Mayor and City Council. Is this working already—if so, why change it? Would like to see the Treasurer considered like a department head, as opposed to convoluted system with approval from City Council—there is no clear responsibility in the current way. Take out part b. C is to hold that for the Article 2 discussion…city council function. Any mechanism for disbanding a Board…ordinance would establish them and then say when no longer needed. Maybe some statement in charter to talk about when it should go away—recodification? Marilyn: can put in transition provision: a termination of an appointed committee by an ad hoc committee appointed by a Mayor—or can do both? Maybe housecleaning, or add in a 10-year review of commissions or both? In recodification section…
Article 3-4, 3-5: very few changes
Article 3-6: Temporary Appointments: is there a difference between interim and temporary? Are interim positions outside the rules about temporary. Need to put in mechanism that holds a mayor responsible to hire people in permanent positions. Intent of language is to get position filled permanently…what sort of teeth is there? The Council can object if it goes beyond 6 months. Look into it more…what has been happening? The interim director of planning has been serving for about 2 years, but probably hasn’t had his name before the City Council. [Collins: should run this to the city solicitor.[ Need to have teeth—what happens when the time is up? [Collins: Want some flexibility in this, but can have good management of the process.] Maybe need definitions of interim, temporary, vacancy…? Current language is different than 45 years ago, so what about preparing for the future? Three situations: permanent position, temporary for a set time, temporary for an undefined time—issue is that the middle group can go on for a long time. What is the enforcement piece? General agreement that if temporary position is given for more than 3 months, there should be approval process. Will do some more research—existing language does what they want, but need to check into it. Mayor should file any vacancy at the department level with City Clerk.
Article 3-7: Tough to require executive to present a strategic plan to city council. But…City Council should know everything the Mayor know about the finances of the city. Not good idea to specific city documents. Maybe express sentiment of full disclosure. Records request, essentially, like a FOIA request. “From time to time” is how often? Maybe specify regular times? Everett specifies quarterly. [Collins Center: annually, quarterly…] add “no less frequently than semi-annually” and keep the sentiment about fully informed City Council. Allow the council to request it but put a constraint upon how often that can happen. Council doesn’t have that many powers, so leave without constraint.
NOTE: For Article 5 discussion: discuss the emergency spending power of the Mayor, and having it be limited.
Section 3-8: Only recommended change is about the power of the City Council to reconsider a motion. Does it belong in Article 2? Move it there, with language here to go to Article 2.
Section 3-9 and 3-10: No further changes other than those moved to Article 8. One possible change it to have a special election for Mayor if needed to coincide with a regular 2-year election for SC or City Council (also depends on length of terms for these offices) so discuss in future.
- Also look at whether Mayor can appoint city employees to Boards and Commissions (in Article 3-3.)
- Also look at vacancies on Boards and Commissions. Maybe have a provision that appointments can be made by the City Council if there are too many openings for too long. [Collins Center: uniform state law for boards and commission that have authority.]
- But could work for advisory boards set by ordinance—could be part of the ordinance set by the City Council. Not in the city charter, though.
- Could require Mayor to file a regular report to the City Clerk about all the Boards and Commissions, including who is on them and what open seats there are. State who is the appointing authority for those positions.
Finances of the Commission: Meeting of the Finance Committee on Monday night. Request from the Mayor was to have a discussion about the money, not to actually allocate the money. The Commission passed a resolution in favor of their complete budget request. Their request was to the Mayor to make an official request. Not sure how long the process will take—have de facto approval from the commission when it happens. Councilor Norton abstained; all others approved.
Schedule Changes: Updated calendar emailed out in last week. Changes: public hearing on Article 2 will be on March 30th; special meeting added March 31st with testimony from current and former Aldermen from Newton. April 6th: hold deliberations on School Committee. Added April 12th—invited city councilors from other cities of comparable size. Taken out October 12th meeting and added November 16th.
Start planning earlier for special meetings with invitations for testimony, just to be sure date will work for those invited and the Charter Commission.
Communications: Finished Article 8; heard good feedback. Taken straw vote on Article 11. A number of comments by people who didn’t like the removal of “incumbent” on ballots.
Respectfully submitted by Susan Flicop, 3-17-16