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,
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.
- 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.
- 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.