7-12-16 Charter Commission Meeting Observer Notes
Charter Commission Meeting
July 12, 2016
Attending: Josh Krintzman (Chair), Bryan Barash (late), Jane Frantz, Howard Haywood, Anne Larner, Brooke Lipsitt, Karen Manning, Rhanna Kidwell, Christopher Steele
Approval of Minutes: Approval of May 11, 18, 25 and June 15 minutes (minor modifications)
Earnest Lowenstein: Wants clarification on Article 11 General Provisions where it requires provision for public comment at reasonable intervals so he can oppose it.
Matt Hills: Supports the School Committee’s current 8-year term limit structure. There is no magic way to create competition and turnover. The current system gives infrequent strong spurts of competition in electoral races. It’s more difficult to get turnover if the list is longer. Good people step up when there’s an open seat. Stronger candidates don’t run against an incumbent.
Article 5: Financial Procedures—
BL: 5b: do we want that level of detail? Are we discouraging thinking of items not on that list?
AL: thinks is helpful and consistent
(Barash arrives at 7:15)
CS: doesn’t read as definitive, but as minimum threshold
BB: proposes changing “may” to “shall”
JK: thinks too detailed.
RK: likes list
BB: is anyone concerned that the city council won’t include these things?
Vote on shorter second sentence fails (JK, BL, BB—yes, CS-abstain)
Vote on longer sentence carries 8-0 (HH abstains)
Sec. 5b Capital Inventory and Capital Improvement Program:
Changed “may” to “Shall and “describe” to “establish” in the second sentence: “The city council shall, by ordinance, establish the requirements of the inventory, such as age, maintenance and repair history, remaining useful life and other features the city council deems appropriate.”
Straw Vote: 9-0
BB & AL: Still have meetings to complete. Not ready to discuss.
JK provided everyone with a discussion guide that started with the commission’s goals
- Greater public participation in government in Newton
- Increased level of civic understanding
- More effective and responsive government
The cc then addressed the following questions:
- How does the concept of term limits comport or conflict with the above goals?
- What issues or problems will term limits solve or address?
- What are the downsides to term limits and what problems could they create?
RK: 15% turnover in any election of council, much less than ideal, declining marginal return on tenure, not getting greater participation. Wants systematic—limits for one/limits for all
BB: but not all about return on investment—it’s about who people like and want representing them.
AL: term limits on SC has meant greater turnover—about 30%. Been successful there. CC—seeing longer and longer tenure, lower turnover—15% there. Low rate of challengers. Fewer open seats—average 9.3%. Literature on term limits mostly about “turn the crooks out” That’s not how she sees Newton. Here it’s mostly about not making a career of public office and maximizing public involvement. Usually the mayor and cc have the same limits in other communities.
BL: agrees with goal of turnover. Not sure of the connection between term limits and turnover. We are seeing a dearth of people with the capacity to run for office—concerned that by adding term limits only going to discourage people from service.
KM: disagree. Many entrepreneurs with flexible schedules now. Streamlining the public process makes it more attractive. Can campaign more easily with social media and such. Power of incumbency is the problem. People wait for vacancies. SC shows how it can play out.
BB: reasons not to run against incumbents is they are neighbors. Haven’t seen seats go vacant in Newton.
BL: have had difficulty getting people to run.
CS: There are easy & difficult campaigns. Those looking to run wait for an easy election. Without limits, you don’t have that and might instead just run, rather than wait. My concerns are if you have a different vision, but won’t run for fear of alienating the current office holder—where’s the leadership? Term limits won’t guarantee good candidates will run.
JF: strongly supports term limits. TL help focus work because only have a set number of years to accomplish anything.
JK: thinks open seats are the best way to get a contested race
KM: few seats turn over via challenge.
(others recalled ½ of school committee being voted out in the 1970s because of hot issues)
JK summarized pros and cons of TL:
|More open seats||People wait to run|
|Shorter tenure||Shorter tenure|
|Focus||People see limit as their full term, rather than about accomplishing something|
|No lifetime careers in public office||Change power relationship with staff|
|Difficulty finding people to run|
AL: ½ of city council has been in office for 10 years or more
BL: most other communities don’t term limit city council. Very few limit school committee. And other communities have contested elections all the time. It’s not a magic fix.
HH: Ward 3 has issues finding people to run
- Should term limits for city council, school committee and mayor be interrelated/aligned or should they be addressed individually?
- What are the advantages/benefits of having an interrelated system of term limits for the city council, school committee and mayor?
- What are the disadvantages of same?
RK: create a power imbalance if council is limited and mayor not
Discussion of mayor’s role on SC and how that is different
HH: with a strong mayor system you inherently have imbalance power. TL would not fix that
BL: could exacerbate the imbalance. A lot of council’s work is built on relationships with staff and city departments. If frequent turnover, imbalance gets worse. Had a mayor for 24 years, who was challenged every time.
BB: Mayors can wait out council
JK: could be an issue of balance of power. Mayoral races get regular challengers, unlike council.
BB: keep in mind fresh ideas if tl mayor
JF: name recognition trumps all in mayoral races
AL: large cities with tl for mayors & councils tend to have the same length of tl. Most 8 or 12 years.
- If term limits are equitable—must they be equal?
- Addressing the term limits as separate entities
- What are the tradeoffs/downsides to addressing the term limits for the three bodies as separate entities?
- What are the advantages/benefits of same?
KM: can be different. Easy to understand
JF: each role is so different, would want to assess differently.
BB: equal makes easier for voters to understand. Only reason for it
BL: think about tl timing. Mayors often come out of the council. Want to avoid a large number of tl out councilors at same time mayor is tl out. Turnover all at the same time feels peculiar
AL: in SC never lost whole body at same time. Had up to 6 SC turn over, but not all due to tl.
Collins: Most places start the clock at zero. Transitions are up to the charter
- Term limits for mayor
- TL for School Committee
- TL for City Council
AL: 12-year limit is at the outer realm of other cities’ limits
HH If tl for mayor and not council will have council with more power
RK: favors 12 for council and mayor
JF: 12 for mayor fine. Third term is often the killer. Council 12 years gives enough time to dig into an issue and make progress. 12-14 not more. SC—the system works now. Talking about the system. Too much institutional knowledge—leaving out a large part of the elementary school population. Likes 8 years because many SC members do know the system going in. Get up to speed faster than the average councilor
BB: power associated with mayoral incumbency…
JK: concerns about tl mayor. Plenty of attention to the race now. Don’t have the same issue at council. Getting contested elections for mayor.
BL: we are here for two things:
- Address the questions put to us by the pubic
- Create internal logic and consistency/function to the charter
Concerned that system would enhance imbalance of power between mayor & council.
BB: agree. Best to TL both
Proposed: 12-12-12 or 12-12-8 (SC)
RK: data on other cities—same limits
KM: too dramatic a change?
BL: the public message will be Term Limits for All. Thinks council of 13 will do the job (having more contested races). This is a huge change. TL to council or mayor is puzzling.
HH&BB: No TL for anyone or TL for everyone
VOTE: 12-12-12 limits, fails 3-5
16 year mayoral term limit: fails 4-4-1
Decide to vote SC and council first
In favor of 12-year term limits for City Council: Frantz, Manning, Larner, Kidwell, Haywood. Opposed: Barash, Lipsitt, Krintzman, Steele
JF: wants shorter TL for SC—innovation needs new ideas. Need elementary school representation—when those parents aren’t on the committee, these schools get left out of discussions.
AL: SC should reflect the community, not just the school population. 8 years is now not a problem. NO magic number
JF: cc&SC have different roles. We have never lacked community members on SC. Run into problems when the school community is not fully represented. 8 years has worked. Why change it?
KL: there was no push to change this.
VOTE on 12-year TL for SC, fails 2(Kidwell, Larner)-6-1 (Haywood)
In favor of 8-year term limits for School Committee: Frantz, Manning, Krintzman, Haywood, Barash. Opposed: Kidwell, Larner, Lipsitt, Steele
In favor of 12-year term limits for mayor: Frantz, Manning, Barash, Larner, Kidwell. Opposed: Haywood, Lipsitt, Krintzman, Steele
BL: We’ve now had three 5-4 votes. Troubling because it doesn’t bode well for the charter.
JF: We’ve gotten the most flak for a 9-0 decision.
Vote on whole package—passes 5-4: Opposed: Lipsitt, Krintzman, Haywood, Steele
JK wanted volunteers to work over the summer
Preliminary report—usually just the charter because it’s published in the paper (expensive) supplementary materials can go on the web.
JK—wants an intro and wants materials summarized
RK: worried won’t finish on time—still have Article 6, Area Council discussion, composition of city council and two further articles. Fall is full of holidays
BL: august meeting?
Summer work: get notes and summaries together, explain process
RK: volunteers, but can’t do over the summer.
Agreement that need a separate list of recommendations on things not addressed in the charter. Report should be short & focused—a sales pitch for the charter.
KM leaves at 9:50
HH; Need to make the case for cutting the council to 13 members
Meeting adjourned at 10.
Submitted by Andreae Downs.