Charter Commission Public Hearing
June 1, 2016
Attendees: Josh Krintzman (Chair), Rhanna Kidwell (Vice-Chair), Bryan Barash, Jane Frantz, Anne Larner, Karen Manning, Chris Steele
Absent: Howard Haywood (illness), Brooke Lipsitt
Public Comment on Articles 2, 3 and 4:
Councilor Marc Laredo: Thinks City Council functions quite well. Debatable as to whether or not is could be smaller. Not necessarily in favor of reducing size, but understands and appreciates the arguments. Quite disappointed and concerned with methodology to elect City Councilors. No problem with 1 councilor from each ward—like the benefits from representing a particular area of the city, but with a citywide perspective. Troubled by manner of choosing 5 at-large councilors elected at large. Worst thing in current system is that have to choose 17 members of City Council every election this plan reduces that by 4 to 13. Currently have two at-large—far better if someone did not like Marc’s performance to be able to vote me up or down in a one-to-one election. Current system doesn’t do that, the proposed system make it worse. Proposed: 16 councilors, 8 up for election each time—easy choices for voter—up or down 8 people. Other alternative: 8 at large and 4 district councilors—combine two wards together, get sharply reduced number of elected officials. Make it simpler for the voters—proposal doesn’t do that. Encourages slates, discourages people from running. Allows those who aren’t doing a great job but have name recognition to keep on serving. Each member of City Council should stand on their own two feet—people should vote up or down.
Councilor Ruthanne Fuller: agree with Councilor Laredo 100%. Interested in Boston Globe article this past Sunday. Goals that she thinks they should be trying to achieve: effectiveness, representation and responsiveness. Efficiency way at the bottom. Comfortable with reduced size of the City Council. Notes that trying to get 24 people up to speed on a controversial issue is very difficulty—leads to slow, incremental change. But…there is less representation and fewer people for residents to turn to. Agrees with balance that Charter Commission is striking. Comfortable with the switch from Ward Councilors to Ward At-Large Councilors. Residency requirement is very real—very aware of what is going on in ward, but is looking city-wide since elected at large. Uncomfortable with 5 councilors at-large. Accountability goes away completely. Things possibility of geographic clustering of those 5 councilors is very real and could be very damaging. Agrees with Marc Laredo’s options.
Term limits: think that hurting effectiveness of City Council if go with 12 years for term limits. Will remove really good leaders—at seven years, feels she is beginning to be a really good city councilor. Council is not driven by seniority—chairmanships are not reliant on that. No corruption. Removing power from the voters—terms limits are called elections.
Goal of increasing the number of contested elections: urge the Charter Commission to be clear as to why they want more contested elections. Do you think it’s not representative? Do you think they are not getting fresh blood? Reducing it to 13 might do that on its own. People scared off? Really hard to run at-large…keep by ward. Think that creates more accountability? Thinks this decreased accountability by having term limits—people just serve out 12 years. Really understand what they are trying to accomplish and use the appropriate tool. If keep term limits, make it longer…just getting good at the job.
Salle Lipshutz: words from Marjorie Arons Baron on her blog about eliminating ward councilors. Far better to have 8 ward councilors and 5 elected at large. Provides connectivity to ward that is neighborhood responsiveness and highlights accountability. This is bound to be diluted by having people elected at large.
Shawn Fitzgibbons: continue to consider the idea of enshrining board principals in our city beyond the state constitution—i.e. basic rights and protections for those who lack them now, environmental issues, rights of workers to bargain collectively. They are often discussed at state and national level—is there a way to enshrine these in our city?
Support for initial idea of reducing the size of the city council. Perhaps larger body engages the electorate, but can confuse voters with so many to vote for. Strongly support of a city-focused government and elected body—meaning that all at-large officials. No concern whatsoever that having no ward-only city councilors will impact representation. Perhaps it will bring more to bear on local issues. Currently both at-large and ward councilors are very dedicated to their constituents and their ward. Nervous about term limits but understand reasoning for that. Want experienced officials who do good job and contribute to Newton.
Ernest Lowenstein: issue of reduction and how is the linchpin of how work will stand or fall in 2017. Cites comments in Boston Globe article by Josh Krintzman—critiques do not stand up under critical review. Length of meetings is set by councilors; comparison of size of body with other communities in MA is irrelevant. Others can do as they wish. Ward councilors are the ones that people go to first before at-large councilors. Critiques do not meet the goals set by the commission. No evidence that fewer names on ballot would increase participation and civic understanding. Smaller number of councilors be more responsive to voters—why should this be different from today. What does the straw vote mean? Will there be another vote on this specific question or on the whole body of changes at the end?
Elaine Rush Arruda: opposed to changes in the City Council, particularly in losing the Ward Councilors. Change is akin for US Senators to be voted on by entire country: requires much more money to run; five with no residency restrictions means that 6 can come from one village. Akin to voting in 46 senators from one state. Need to ensure that everyone has a fair chance to hold a seat.
Alec Calderoni: opposition to extension of SC terms to 12 years. As a parent, teacher and resident, need SC members who have kids in schools. As a resident want to vote for candidates who spend time in the schools—please keep term limits to 8 years.
Councilor Amy Sangiolo: Not here to comment on findings; concerned about understanding how you arrived at these decisions—what research used, what communication with residents in city, who is the custodian of all the emails? Who are you hearing from, what comments are they submitting? Reasoning behind term limits and why decided to reduce the size of the City Council.
Priscilla Leith: Against reduction is size of the City Council. Leave 16, with staggered terms—8 ward and 8 at-large. Agrees in terms limits of 12 years. About executive—would add that Mayor has the power to hire and fire department heads, but City Council can call for an explanation of dismissals. Few people attend commission meetings—news coverage is rather spotty. Commission should be paying attention to a recent TAB editorial on the value of Ward Councilor. Using the 311 situation is time consuming and doesn’t result in any feedback. Not all residents have access to computers and access to internet so ward councilors are valuable. Efficiency is not necessarily the best goal. Haggling within the committees works well—have better decisions.
Nathaniel Wicken: agree with almost everything the commission has done. Address two things: the size of the Board—don’t need 24, but perhaps 13 is too small. Perhaps two per ward? Often times don’t get along with one person who represents you, but having a second person would be beneficial. Also twelve year terms limits seems a little short—16 seems better to account for ramp-up time. Significant benefit to keeping people around for extended time. Did a good job on the School Committee. Great job overall.
Next meeting June 15, 2016.
Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop