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
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.
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