Newton Charter Commission Public Hearing
March 9, 2016
Topic: Articles 3 and 5 of City Charter
Sue F. read the LWVN statement (see LWVN website)
Ernest Lowenstein: Last week heard overwhelming desire to have smaller city council. Wants to speak in favor of it—important for democracy. Can speak directly to city counselors—harder to get to the Mayor. City Councilor represents individuals, but the Mayor represents a wider group. Austin Street showed a need for a wide number of opinions, helped with a large democratic process. Newtonville is under attack—next year it will be someone else’s village center.
Isabel Hubeck (?): concerned about potential conflicts of interests of people who make decisions—meaning builders who want to decrease mitigation or who help instead of evaluate. Also concerned about public hearings—very, very time consuming. Is there a way to change that or make it better? Now there is no timetable—often have to sit through whole meetings to comment. Sometimes votes are late at night when people are tired—not best use of councilors time.
Peter Harrington: Also support the strong Mayor form of government. Mayor is in charge and should runt the city—democracy with a small “d.” Term limits for school committee: was a strong proponent for term limits in charter during the last commission. Vote for SC in 5-4 vote. Vote for BoA went the other way by someone who was a former elected official. Concept of term limits stands today as well as it did in 1970. Problem is that there are often good qualified strong leaders who get elected and people don’t want to lose them. Opposite side is that some people make contribution but run out of steam. Lose some energy and determination that had at the beginning—think about staying on and continuing on. Important to make way for new ideas and new energy and determination. Therefore support term limits. Other problem with long-term service. People often times (not in Newton but in other places) make it their job, use it for self aggrandizement, don’t want to leave, establish power structure, gets harder to defeat them. Need to have process for turnover—more important than a process to keep a few good people in office. Would have term limits on everyone, including the Mayor? Yes. Term limits on Boards and Commissions? Some commission, experience is important. Some could have term limits—generally get tired of doing it. Would support limits.
Staggered term: becomes a problem—some will run with Mayor and some won’t. Would be better off if everyone all run every time the Mayor runs—more voters, more excitement among electorate. Off year elections (from Mayoral race) is lower turnout.
Sallee Lipshutz: Agree that four-year terms would be good for everyone. With term limits of 8 years, would have staggered terms—SC would turn over every four years.
Support ‘Strong Mayor” form of government. Paul Pizzella noted that proportional representation had been lost when at-large city councilors started in Worcester. Strongly urge that CC retain proportional representation throughout the city. Every village deserves to have representation on City Council. Knows how hard it is to have your voice heard—at least have some help with City Council.
Area Council: didn’t integrate signature numbers for Area Council into Article 8—keep all together. In Article 11, area council is not included in indemnification clause. City agency definition doesn’t include area councils. City has no obligation to provide representation—please indemnify members of Area Council.
Article 4: agree that remove the 2% charter maintenance requirement. If we have something that we wish to be the policy of our city, what do we do when it is not followed? Wait until the next charter or is there some way to enforce the city charter—would like CC to address that.
Term limits for SC: would help to not have the word “incumbent” on the ballot. SC serves the needs of the population for a limited amount of time, while City Council serves everyone while they live here. Could argue that this difference is justified, but hasn’t formed an opinion yet. Believes that 4 year terms will work, with two-term limit. Allow for turnover but still some institutional memory—provides for continuity in office and for fresh ideas to flourish.
The more councilors, the better our city is served. Likes being able to contact City Councilors. Disagree that Newtonville is the target—lots of villages are experiencing change. 24 Councilors allow for communication on these issues.
- Should be term limits for the Mayor—8 years is enough to achieve goals. Too easy for incumbents to be reelected by uninformed voters.
- Ask that the commission look into the ability to recall a Mayor—do other cities have this, should it be added into the charter? [Should this be extended to everyone? Yes]
- Mayors should not be allowed to campaign for higher office while serving as Mayor.
- Also believe that need to retain 24 City Councilors for adequate representation.
Shaul Berechtman: Ask to add to the SC—an ombudsman or parent advocate. The NPS is devoid of any mechanism for solving disputes. Atmosphere of distrust, unequal treatment of families based upon money. SC doesn’t deal with individual issues. If they don’t engage in individual problems, people need to get a lawyer and spends a lot of money. Not aware of other cities that have them, but that isn’t a reason to not do it. Would be proud to be the first. Have a group of parents or a silent minority that face a difficult situation when dispute with school system—other than going through the legal process, there is not way of dealing with it. Could argue that shouldn’t be in city charter—benefit is that it protects the position from the whim of anyone running the schools down the road.
Ann Dorfman: Served on the solid waste commission, as an active member were three members of DPW environmental affairs office who were also Newton residents. As a member of the committee, their presence made it difficult to do anything other than what the DPW wanted. Surprised that town employees were allowed to serve on a commission. Didn’t find it helpful. Found destructive that the committee also have a member of the BoA who served as chair. Wasn’t a citizens committee with those members.
About the number of Aldermen, know people like 24 Aldermen. Question the role of the Aldermen…is that their role? What do other communities doe and how do they handle citizen interaction? Is there an ombudsmen who can do that? Aldermen spend a phenomenal number of hours basically behaving an unpaid employees. Looks “off.” Is this the best model to be using.
Collected signatures for the Charter Commission—when asking for signatures, found that 2 of 50 knew how many Aldermen there were. Most guessed between 2 and 5. Didn’t know that they had that many—regardless that some like to pick up the phone and call, the vast majority didn’t know to do that.
In prior advocacy, found that working with 24 aldermen to approve something—they work on their “gut” feeling. Educating the members, with 24 aldermen, didn’t have the time as a working citizen to go and talk to each one—no way to talk and advocate. Goal was to reach 13. When have a goal and need to communicate, very hard with 24 people on the Board.
Lisa Mirabile: echo Peter Harrington’s support for term limits for BoA and SC. Serve an important function by engaging more people in our government. Longer they serve, the more institutional the government becomes. Turnover leads to more engagement. [Position on Mayoral term limist? Yes, same reason; should remove from SC if leave BoA and Mayor along? No…should establish term limits.
Brian Yates: heard that a lot of people don’t know how many members there are on the City Council. So what? Do they know at least one? Do they have some degree of access? If it’s not broke, don’t fix it…if you think it is broke, specify in what way? Fair number of people don’t even know they live in a city—think it is a town.
What does it mean for Council to be more effective? Next door P&S committee is going into their second year about what to do about leaf blowers…
Worth looking at unintended consequences…i.e. sell-off of school buildings. Term limits can protect people—since they are leaving then can do what they want.
Sallee Lipshutz: forgot to tell that her idea is to add term limits for commissions and boards. Believe that should enshrine in the charter that the mayor should propose a balanced budget every year.
Lisa: follow-up to Councilor Yates…knowing the number of Aldermen may not be important, but try explaining the system to someone new to Newton. Is a disincentive to people to engage in city government.
Shaul Berechtment: SC and City Council are not the same thing. The SC chooses the Superintendent—different relationship that Council has with Mayor. Can’t conclude they should be the same. If people don’t know how many councilors they are, that is a sign of success. If things were going wrong, that’s because people think things are running well. Not looking for an alternative.
Laura Holt: considers herself more engaged than most; didn’t realize how many city councilors there are. Should be aiming for educated public, not letting ignorance go and assuming that no knowledge means things are OK. What do other communities do?
Next commission meeting next Wednesday, 3-16-16. April 6th public hearing on City Council.