Charter Commission Meeting
May 18, 2016
Attending: Josh Krintzman (Chair), Rhanna Kidwell (Vice-Chair), Jane Frantz, Anne Larner, Brooke Lipsitt, Karen Manning, Chris Steele
Absent: Bryan Barash, Howard Haywood (illness)
NOTE: Howard was in the hospital and is recovering.
Approval of May 4th minutes: approved unanimously
Shaul Berechtman: talked about an ombudsman for School Committee at other CC meetings. Reiterate his comments. At SC meeting, Judy Levin-Charns made a comment about 35 students who have gone through legal process with the School Department. No mechanism to resolve dispute within the school system—need to give up or have a legal battle. Bad for all involved; can put an ombudsman to resolve many of these issues instead of other ways. Keep in mind that School Committee members do not work on specific constituent issues.
Article III Discussion:
City Manager v. Mayor: Concern expressed in past about not looking more deeply at City Manager v. Mayor. Will do that now. Thanks to consultant for research; be sure to look at two chapters from book on the topic. While City Manager might provide better administrative capacity, the Mayor provides a “moral” leader perspective. Table created to show strength and weaknesses of each option.
Better define the role of Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) so can specify a role for these administrative functions. Set of models that we could adopt here, all from out of state.
AL: am proponent of City Manager form of government. Thinks that somewhere Newton is a place that might engage a city manager—would need to go outside MA to get good examples and testimony. Main positive is that it strengthens a council because it has a sharing of some executive powers when done well. Believes that council always feels the “underdog” until it has a better balance with the “implementer.” This form of government has a lot of potential. Wouldn’t support it right now because the City isn’t in a place to accept it. Would take 4-5 years of community conversations to do research and engage people. Important to downsize the City Council first, but this is unlikely to pass. A “non starter” right now. Many ways that cities try to deal with “moral leadership” role.
JF: Why did those communities change from the City Manager form of government? [Marilyn: They wanted the relationship with the Mayor. ] The Mayor form with the CAO is most intriguing to her. Important of the Mayor speaking to the values in the community.
BL: Intrigued by Council Manager form. It totally upends the system we have—makes a council that is “all powerful.” But no chance that this would be voted in. Wasn’t a reason to put forward, but agree about the “moral leadership” role for a Mayor (stated by Ruth Balser at earlier hearing.) Am disinclined to mandate a CAO-COO role in the charter. It is possible in the future that an elected Mayor may have an administrative background. That person might want to hire a strong policy person instead of a strong administrator—hesitant to put more instruction into how the Mayor’s office is run. Can be different for different Mayors. Would like to give more support to the Council for a better balance—things like allowing them to hire outside counsel.
RK: Concur with idea of this giving more power to the Council. Since giving a new format to the Council, feels that this would be too much. Wouldn’t vote for a charter that changed both at the same time. Want to take a serious look at in the future.
KM: Now more than ever alternatives to how a moral leader can emerge from a group. Important for voters to elect a Mayor. Community is not educated to this model very well. Agree with not proposing too much change.
BL: Motion that stick with strong Mayor form of government. CS seconded.
JK recommended staying with strong Mayor form previously. Like having a person directly accountable to the people.
Vote: unanimous 7-0-0
Discussion of CAO: potential language for CAO role: sheet with three options, though there are also others.
AL: Likes option 2; fine with “shall” rather than “may”. Board description gives a lot of flexibility to Mayor. Thinks CAO should be at the pleasure of the Mayor and not be up to the Council. Option 1 is far too prescriptive.
BL: Option 2 is the best of the three. But does it need to be there? Is it up to the Mayor to organize the function of the executive office or not? Having trouble describing any function within the Mayor’s office. Would say “may” if anything.
[Bryan Barash joined the meeting.]
KM: Big fan of guiding values in the charter—statement of direction or encouragement. Maybe more general statement about hiring to effectively support the role of ….
JF: Like that idea. Takes away title, which will become dated.
JK: Under Article 3.2a—working?
RK; Likes option 2 and the word “shall.” Safeguard that we do get people in appropriate qualifications. Have a strong Mayor, but need support for staff. Follows a corporate model with the CEO having responsibility with visibility, constituent work, etc. A mayor with a managerial background will still need support administratively with all the other roles he/she must take.
BB: Concern that structure is flexible so that Mayor can choose to have one person report to him or many.
BL: proposed a more general statement with wider roles—not so specific. Wants maximum flexibility and leave room for mayoral discretion.
RK: Current language doesn’t have any teeth is not a fan.
[Discussion continues on whether to specify role, whether it is a values statement, whether it has “teeth” and some proposed wordsmithing.]
KM: Instead of CAO, how about using the work “professional” so that the term doesn’t become outdated and stresses the qualifications of the person.
BL: proposed option 2 but: take out advice and consent of council and changed CAO to professional staff.
BB: isn’t this then a fuzzy line with Council needing to approve department heads?
[Collins Center: this is Article III, only deals with Mayor}
RK: What is the value of having this in the charter at all? Not adding any value this way if “may” hire staff. Wants to see “shall”
AL Motion: insert option 2 into Article III-2 as a new subsection (b), with a “shall.” RK seconded. Discussion: sort of unenforceable, problem to hire “solely”—take it out? Friendly amendment: on the basis of strong administrative and executive qualifications. Vote: 6-2-0
RK Motion to strike the last sentence of Article III-2a. JF seconded. Withdrawn.
BB: Change last line of Article II-2a: Mayor may appoint staff….CS seconded. Vote 8-0-0.
BL: Section 3-3: separate department heads from heads of Boards and Commissions. Add that City employee may not be chair of commission. Should City Councilors allowed to be on B & C? [That’s in Article II.]
Proposal to limit city employees to not more than 1/3 of B & C unless other mandated by ordinance or statute. Sense of group to make changes in the draft version.
AL: Defining Treasurer: should it be in there? Did the CC propose to take out too much? [Collins Center: this appointment was the only one that required an affirmative vote of the Council.]
–after much discussion, decided to leave it out. Maybe discuss again during the finance discussion.
BB: organization of Article III-3: way it reads feels awkward. Should start with how to hire all staff, then go into special staff—switch a and b now.
AL: this goes in a hierarchy—first section is about Mayor, then the rest is about the department head hires.
BL: separate Boards and Commissions from the other part.
JK: Temporary appointments: Council has been approving them each time.
AL: Section III-7 (a) 3: remove requirement? Is this petty?
BB: But have problem with empty seats on Boards and Commissions.
KM: Maybe move to transition section?
BL: Is too proscriptive. Need to deal with this as part of recommendations and not in charter.
JK: Twice a year might be too much, but once a year would be good. It would highlight the issue and maybe encourage people to join.
BL: It’s in the wrong place. Should be with the five-year report of Boards and Commissions.
JK: Is a duty of the Mayor, so likes it here.
[Collins Center: how about putting it in the earlier paragraph about B&C?]
Motion: AL: remove Section III-7 (a) 3, JF seconded. 4-4-0 Motion fails.
BB: Motion that change language to be annual and that consider placing it somewhere else. BL seconded. Passed 7-1-0.
Article III-10: should the CC specify a number of days?
AL: remembering Mayor Cohen’s comments about this in the past, need to keep some flexibility. If something happens over summer, don’t want election at that point.
Discussion: possibility for pressure by acting Mayor, etc. to find date for election most beneficial to them. So add in a limited number of days, no preliminaries, etc. 120 days? 90 days seems too short. Seem to land on 120 days.
Article III-8: some wordsmithing.
Article IV: Revisit Term Limits for School Committee
AL did research—hopes to be finished by Friday. Since data is almost ready for everyone, maybe revisit after June 1st public hearing. Already have a straw vote on term limits—instead of revising several times, wait and hear from others. After discussion and a vote, decided to discuss after June 1st public hearing.
Made two changes:
Filling of vacancies: change made for councilor at large vacancies
Legal Counsel to the Council: specifies money available for legal advice it feels it needs
Straw Vote: 8-0-0
Number of Wards: does anyone want to revisit the number of wards in the city? Useful issue but don’t have any data. Worthy of study…
Issues: related to configuration of City Council…have fewer wards. People aren’t necessarily attached to their wards. Has been very constraining in discussions. Open to ideas, but too many changes could increase the likelihood that the charter vote will go down. Put off for now…maybe get comments on June 1st.
Straw Vote (preamble and Article 1, not the definitions): 8-0-0
Lisle Baker: public hearing will have a lot of comment about the big questions. 1. Small technical issues still worthy. Example: what happens when vacancy in Mayor’s office…some value in a general provision that City Council can provide for those gaps by ordinance. 2. Reporting function built into the charter—difference between reporting and docketing an item for discussion by the City Council. Stuff that needs to be in the charter v. stuff that ordinances can do. 3. District model has some benefits that may be elusive in the discussion—somewhat distanced from a problem in their voting since may not affect their constituents directly. There is a division of labor between ward aldermen and at large, as well. 4. Independent advice for City Council is useful, but problem in trying to specify a value. Look at charter maintenance. It’s a local constitution rather than a document to solve all problems.