Charter Commission Meeting
October 19, 2016
Attending: Josh Krintzman (Chair), Rhanna Kidwell (Vice-Chair), Bryan Barash, Jane Frantz, Anne Larner, Brooke Lipsitt, Chris Steele
Approval of Minutes: Approved unanimously.
Sallee Lipshutz: Where are the letters regarding Article 9? She requests they are posted online. [Josh and Rhanna: letters aren’t usually published. Not required to be posted publicly.] Scenario 2: draft language from the Collins Center effectively removes the Area Councils as legal entities in the city charter. Would strongly recommend that the article 9 lanuage reflect communications and advisory in their missions; reflect that elections be under the auspices of city; purpose be retained in its entirely and to expand to include them as legal entities of the city government. Add indemnification to Area Councils as given to members of other Boards and Commissions. City Council’s ability to work will be decreased and so Area Councils will fill an void.
Bob Burke: Secretary of NHAC: read Serge’s letter that sent to the Charter Commission. Take following course: continue to include article 9 in city charter, maintain the current structure by only making minor revisions, require municipal election process, allow them ability to receive city funds and grants. Not a request for automatic funding…allow city council to make decisions on functions of area council, rather than put in the charter. Recognize that the charter is fully democratic in terms of organizing themselves. Received many requests about correspondence that has been sent. Area Councils have been totally transparent.
Nathanial Rifkin: share numbers, looked at 2015 election turnout numbers. In uncontested races, turnout was between 8 and 12%, in contested races was between 13 and 18%, also in line with historic area council races. If take average size of current area council, end up with 13.2 area councils—not 30 as mentioned in the last meeting. Disapprove of Collins Center viewpoint—wrong direction to take it. Chasing after a problem that isn’t sufficiently important for the city to address.
Sue Flicop: against area councils; Charter Commission is finally at the point to reduce the size of the City Council, but this proposal adds more elected officials and a whole new layer of governments. Adding area councils and giving them the authority they are asking for is inequitable unless every part of the city is part of an area council. This creates a complicated system for voters when the work of area councils can be done by neighborhood associations.
Phil Herr: involved with Austin Street project. Newtonville Area Council came up with a seriously tilted survey that came up with a lot of votes against it. The city gets a much better project by that effort than it otherwise would have had. Provides an enormous service to the city. Regarding the size of the city council, supports a reduction whatever the number and getting clarity regarding some of the rules.
Ernest Lowenstein: simply consider keeping the existing section 9 in the charter intact, as suggested by Mr. Burke. The Charter Commission is already reducing the size of the city council by 50% and it will be twice as hard to have their voices heard. Area Council are a quasi-governmental organization has been a “godsend” in some neighborhoods. They have risen in response to certain issues. Disagrees with statement at earlier meeting that citizens don’t always get their voices heard—developer goes first, then the City Council, and finally the citizens. This is not opportunity—but the Area Councils do give them that.
Joy Huber: Newtonville Area Council: neighborhood groups can’t provide the viability and insurance that the city provides—can’t run a Village Day without that. Are doing a service to the councilors—people would be calling the councilors much, much more if the Area Council wasn’t there.
Karen: been a really intense article, taking it seriously, appreciate all the discussion. Moving forward, there was solid agreement to continue the discussion. Discussion what belongs with the City Council and what belongs in the charter.
Jane: review of Article 9 followed the same process. Gathered data and created options. Ready now to zero in on things. Did follow usual proceedings as with other articles.
CS: Function of area councils is communicative
- Collins Center proposal was a bit stark in terms of language. If it should go in the charter, it needed to be embellished. Preference to expand that—not to the current level, which is too detailed. Current 9-2 talks about providing services and functions—has more texture. Doesn’t have a list of things to put in, but does need to be more than “just to advise.”
JF: agree. Wants to include “to enhance citizen involvement.” Some statement about communication as well.
BL: not convinced that she supports this at all. Understand the desire for communication—that’s what they should be about if we have area councils. Question as to whether that is their exclusive role. Permitting limited self-government and acting as legal entities of the City government that is troubling. Lives in Newtonville Area Council, and never heard from them except for one issue. Still stuck on why we have them in the charter, rather than the language. Haven’t agree on real purpose. Josh: trying to decide what they would be and then decide whether it should be in or not.
BB: Real purpose is in 9-8.
KM: 9-8 leaves it to the City Council. She seconds it, and that was why the Collins Center proposed test is the way it is. Did take out the line that Brooke did not like.
AL: confused about which piece of paper they are working from. Is is the scenarios and the articles? Is it the intent to go through the articles piece by piece?
KM: decided at the last meeting that CC wanted to start fresh, so honed in on 5-6 different section and pivotal decision points. Walking through the points right now. Gave brief starter language.
AL: still too brief.
Collins Center: good place to think about purpose—was intended to be brief. Could easily be expanded to include citizen participation.
JK: purpose to encourage citizen involvement in government at the neighborhood involvement and to facilitate communication between residents and city officials.
RK: not crazy about participate in government. Prefer different language…advice city council and mayor on neighborhood issues. The former pushed it to a different level.
BB: purpose is proposed—doing this as another outlet for people to be engaged. Discussion document is more explicit in what expecting them to do.
RK: no one should have to be elected to area council to participate in government. Neighborhood associations have provided communication, etc. This makes it an entity that she doesn’t think it is.
BB: if put in charter, the purpose would be to encourage citizen engagement in government.
RK: Then what about neighborhoods without area councils? Will they be able to participate?
BB: yes, because they have the option.
KM: Was to be a statement about values and neighborhood involvement. Had decided that they shouldn’t and that was focused on area councils. “Purpose of article is to encourage area council as a way to ….” Might solve the difficulty.
JF: Like simpler language. Many citizen groups that encourage citizen involvement…doesn’t lessen the important of other associations.
BL: How about the word “engagement” rather than “involvement.” The former sounds more two-way.
RK: prefer language from the Collins Center—advise on city-wide issues. Gives specific responsibility and clarity to what the councils do that distinguishes them from other groups in Newton.
BB: Thought statement was in addition to Collins Center language. Could have both.
AL: where are we going? Not clear if everyone has the same image. Could someone lay out a road map about what they are going to discuss?
JF: at last meeting, identified several issues as being areas of concern. If were to include article in charter, how would the issues be dealt with. One was about boundaries.
AL: so that is the road we are travelling down?
JF: yes. The second was how a new council would be formed…
AL: OK…wasn’t clear.
JK: both sentences work together.
RK: but doesn’t like the citizen engagement one. Really like the Collins Center—it doesn’t marginalize other groups.
BB: feeling like stuck on this. How about a straw vote on the statement.
[Josh reads it—new sentence first, then the Collins Center sentence. BB motion to include the statement with both parts. ]
BB: requests a division of the question. First sentence, then the next.
[VOTE: 5 in favor of the first sentence; 2 against; 1 abstention. Motion passes.
Discussion on second sentence:
BL: is troubled, as she is by Board and Commissions. Bodies that are considered advisory and that no one pays any attention to. Implication is that the City Council and Mayor are intended to heed that advice. Thinks it is unrealistic.
AL: find it troubling to vote on sentences without seeing what the whole thing would look like. If had a whole draft, might make more sense. Finds this problematic.
Collins Center: first half enables city council to establish area councils.
JK: likes second sentence. Doesn’t like statements of intent—just lay out powers and duties.
KM: Am comfortable with the first sentence after all. Sees no danger in advisory line.
[Josh rereads lines. Second sentence: The city Council may establish AC to advice the City Council and Mayor on neighborhood issues. 4 in favor, 3 against. Passes.]
JF: One of the issues discussed at length last time is about the boundaries. Several possibilities: city council could establish them if the neighborhood asks. (???) Is it best that include how the boundaries are set—by ordinance? By charter? Were concerns about putting them in the charter….
AL: issue of boundaries is tied up with elections. Very hard to separate the two. From what learned about the election process under the current method, the potential for the future is to have a very inefficient, cumbersome burden on the Election Commission. AC boundaries not part of the current boundaries—need solution to to solve the tension between these things. Need to use the state lists—can use precinct lines (not ward lines) or have a different election process. One option to reduce burden—have the petitioners propose area council to be made up of precincts and to try to conform to neighborhoods. There is a real dilemma/challenge to address.
BB: this is absolutely critical. One of few cities that do it—should be open to adaptation as they evolve.
JF: concern about putting boundaries in the charter. Is 2016 thinking. Charter could exist for 50-60 years—have no idea what elections would look like them. Have City Council set them by ordinance give flexibility.
CS: precincts change due to census. Could get into situation where area council might need to be redefined as changes in census.
KM: Certain danger is being too specific in charter, making themselves experts when it is a huge public policy issue. Strongly support flexibility where they can add it—not to hold them back, but to have them evolve in a healthy functional way. Supports the city council having the power to set boundaries.
Makes motion to include line giving city council power to set boundaries. VOTE: 6 in favor, 0 opposed, 1 abstention
JF: Chris suggested that they talk about elections now—follows setting of boundaries. Heard at last meeting, heard a variety of opinions about how elections can be run. Not hearing a consensus on part of people who contacted commission.
AL: considering vote took place on boundaries, then rational to give elections to City Council to determine. Both are wound together—makes sense to keep together.
BL: doesn’t think that based on evidence gathered. Sees lots of pain and not a lot of benefit associated with city running the elections. Some version of the structure we have today. Will come into place by a request by an interested group of citizens—those are the ones who should run the elections. Is troubled about area councils v. neighborhood association issue. Heard from reps from neighborhood association. Having the city run elections for area council—not going to be easy—proposing an enormous burden by having the city adopt elections. Should be clear on that point.
Collins Center: whether are council reps are city officials—that will determine whether they need to be elected by the city. Could have a prohibition against municipal elections.
BB: thinking has evolved. Somewhat of a concerning precedent to have an elected official from an election not run by city elections office. Some private election process that can’t necessarily claim veracity of is concerning.
JF: in followup conversations with David Olson, was possible to have city run elections for 4 current area councils. If number grew and election process did not change in future, would overwhelm his office. Concerned about making a decision in 2016, when elections are evolving. Propose that city council would make the decision about how elections are run—they can update the elections process.
KM: elections in other cities, elections done by by-laws of area councils. If get into too much detail, making themselves experts in area councils. Feel that undertaking too much. If leave to city council, they can work with elections office. Am comfortable with leaving it with city council. Official status is also left to city council.
BL: third option is make no decision [KM: would be set by ordinance.] Still troubled. To do with underlying concern with essentially defining these as governmental bodies. Sees functions as indistinct with other organization that are not governmental bodies. What is the effect of letting the City Council determine the elections.
BB: either way they are still government bodies. A volunteer board is not a government body.
JK: Any motion.
BL: move that we allow area councils to run their own elections.
VOTE: 3 in favor; 5 against—motion fails
BB: separate motion. Elections to be set by ordinance.
VOTE: 6 in favor; 1 opposed; 1 abstention
KM: going on to rules of formation of area councils—set by ordinance in terms of number of signatures—would correspond to expansion, etc.
CS: issue so tightly tied to setting boundaries.
JF: disagree. If going to have new councils set up throughout the city, best to have that process set out by charter.
BB: Agree with Karen—it is important to give flexibility. Would like to see this as something that can evolve.
AL: lots of dilemmas. Have some sympathy for having flexibility to evolve. Have concern about equity issues. Some sense of balance and broad statement…
BB: was thinking of putting something in transition documents about moratorium or current process in place until city council decides.
JF: concern about doing it by ordinance related to some specific things with area councils. One: concern about mega-council. Also a small group of streets might want to form an area council with a business district. By setting it in the charter, can set minimum/maximum number of residents that can be in an area.
BL: Was thinking in the same direction too. Power doesn’t have to do with actual number of people. Without a minimal or maximal size, have an even greater potential disparity that even in the present situation. Could have several area councils in one ward, providing an imbalance. Need to protect from a potential imbalance.
BB: wasn’t considering that. Was thinking about signatures, etc. Would be OK to set a size.
RK: wouldn’t be opposed to say something that the city council can determine, but is ok with something about size, gerrymandering, megacouncils.
JF: should have min/max number of voters. Concerned about gerrymandering. Difficult for her to come up with a solution. Is an issue that needs to be addressed.
CS: no solution on gerrymandering, but on other issues…have min/max of current area councils?
KM: all this requires an intensive study—sees this as months of work (research). Could keep signature requirements flexible, and then language about keeping a balance—a values statement.
BB: thinks there is a possibility of putting in broad boundaries. Something like no more than 20% of the population and no less than ???.
JF: Table item until can gather more documentation about what a possible min/max should be? Decide by ordinance or in charter? If in the charter, do they want to set min/max?
BL: if going to be in there and devolve responsibility to the council, is OK to come up with framework about what the council should do. One way to consider it that population area should be no smaller than 1 precinct and no larger than the size of a ward—account for changes in population over time. Boundaries should be drawn by city council with the goal of making them as compact as possible. Could use language like that.
Motion: in concept, rules for formation set by ordinance with proviso that no area council shall serve an area smaller than the pop of the average precinct nor larger than the pop of the average ward, and that boundaries be drawn in such a way that the service areas are as compact as reasonable at the time of its formation.
RK: talking about formation, still talking about boundaries…maybe combine into one statement.
BB: Maybe sentence Brooke proposed belongs in boundaries area.
Collins Center: may be other things to add to the city council direction.
KM: rename section: formation and boundaries?
BL: her motion is talking about boundaries. Formation can have a lot of other characteristics. Rhanna’s suggestion gets more to the subject matter.
VOTE: 8 in favor
JF: deliberation of powers and duties: confused by current charter that says that area council may have advisory or substantive powers. Board orders say they should be advisory and not substantive. No other models from other cities. Question is whether they should be advisory or have substantive powers.
BB: also evolved here as well. Seems to him that a lot of the worry from members of area councils are around this question—if take this out, won’t be able to continue. To him, putting in the charter something about being determined by ordinance is essentially the same thing. Wouldn’t mind being more specific and easing more people’s concerns.
BL: and what would you recommend?
BB: in 9-8i and 9-8ii
BL: mean advisory?
RK: doesn’t feel comfortable laying out provisions in the charter. Can’t really form new area councils with a different type of power. Can’t now form unequal area councils. Doesn’t feel that they should detail them in the charter.
JF: issue of equity. Would hate to see an area council formed that was given substantive authority when other area councils did not have that.
BL: speaks to the issue that has been a concern—the issue of whether members of area councils are in fact members of the government, whether they are indemnified. What happens when the Nonantum village Association runs their own village day? Equity issue—why should we be giving group benefits (i.e. insurance, indemnification) when we don’t do that for other organization. Insisting that if want a level playing field, need to become an area council.
CS: indemnification is a model we should include.
RK: even PTOs indemnify themselves—it’s not worth a huge amount of money.
JK: a motion?
JF: motion that area council shall have advisory roles, determined by city council ordinance.
AL: question: is there anything that the current advisory committees do that couldn’t be done under this language?
BB: in his mind there is. Setting up a village day, beautification is doing something—not advisory.
CS: could say item 1–advisory authority with respect for neighborhood issues, but leave item 2 the same.
JK: ordinance could include village days, etc.
BB: doesn’t think so…these aren’t advisory roles.
JK: says that advisory roles and powers established by ordinance. Current charter gives them the power and they can have village days now.
Collins Center: could say area councils should have advisory roles and may perform such other functions that the ordinance shall provide.
JF: likes that—provides the ability to change and gives them nimbleness to change in the future.
BL: language as we are suggesting it will be universal—generic and not specific to one area council. Ensure there is a template that applies to all area councils so there is no preference among them.
BB: add “and shall be consistent across all area councils.”
AL: concerns her. Cookie cutter area councils may not make sense—one might want to do something that others aren’t interested in doing. Might require a particular authority.
BL: wants to permit them but not require.
Collins Center: think it should apply to all area councils—not “consistent” –then can address other areas not covered.
VOTE: 8 in favor
JF: All use the word “shall” and not “may”
KM: does everyone feel comfortable with boundaries and formation—did hit all the points that need to? Not sure that they have?
AL: reality is that see something drafted in front of them to see.
KM: want to make best effort tonight.
Collins: is there anything that requires more specificity—by generic sentence that would be established by ordinance in the City Council.
JF: think that they’ve done a very thorough job. Would like to see a draft—might illuminate some issues.
JF: other provisions: area council are required to have by-laws that they create, have an annual report that is submitted to the city and financial records. Would like a little more specificity regarding financial records. Seemed a little “light” to her. Is this fine with everyone else.
BB: looking at current charter? Collins Center procedures require them to be set by ordinance. Motion that accept what is in the discussion document.
CS: Including all the language? Including the liaison?
BL: think this issue of area council liaison—takes more discussion. Can imagine that the city council or mayor could set a liaison to groups throughout the city. Would like to take that sentence out.
JK: Collins Center language without the liaison.
KM: is concern about preferential treatment? Idea is to minimize disorder.
BL: doesn’t have anything to do with elections.
KM: intention isn’t a bad one—just so that not interfering…
BL: not sure what the person is supposed to do, what their role is, etc.
JK: out of the motion, so let’s move along.
VOTE: 6 in favor, 2 abstentions. Motion passes.
BB: motion that the City Council designate an area council liaison.
RK: object on same grounds—overemphasizes some groups over others. Need to give some definition to the role of liaison.
BB: isn’t saying that hire someone exclusively. Is saying that someone is the designated contact person.
JF: suggest that language is unclear. Brooke and Rhanna raise good points. Clear to her what the role is….suggest that put this aside to a later date.
BL: would be fine if said that liaison is the sole contact between the area council and the city. Reality is that area councils eat a lot of staff time and resources. See this is one more person—not rational or possible to have one entry point.
BB: shall be the primary contact point for city staff.
Collins Center: came from conversation from David. He gets these requests because they don’t know who who to talk to. He strongly supported this idea. Virtually every other city with area councils designated a staff member as liaison. Can be customized.
RK: not at all clear who this person would be…can’t really brainstorm the details of this tonight. Would prefer to do this at a future meeting.
BB: would people be OK with including it and then adding a definition?
RK: No..don’t know they agree on a definition.
JF: worry that could be misconstrued in the future and be used in a way that is unintended.
Still have motion—VOTE: 1 in favor, 7 opposed. Motion fails.
CS: need to revisit indemnity, include in area 11.
Motion: that article 11 mention area councils and indemnify them. VOTE: 4 in favor, 2 opposed, 2 abstaining. Motion carries.
BB: include membership—determined by the city council or a number of people?
BB and RK: back and forth: add size to formation? How about membership?
CS: How about composition—formation and composition?
Motion to add in: 8 in favor
JK: next step is to talk about if should be in the charter
BL: not sure ready to discuss whether should be in the charter. Would like to see the changes from tonight.
BB: if waiting, can have a potential definition for the liaison.
JK: people want to wait until next time.
AL: two issues that have to do with designer selection committee and design review. Selection committee—minimalist approach to make more consistent with state’s language. Using language that is clear and has definitions.
Design review—some clarity and to take out last sentence (added in 1971). Latter hasn’t been used since 1971, therefore erase it from the section. Has been passed by Josh Morse (building commissioner) and he is fine with this. Anne has spoken to several past chairs of public facilities, members of design review.
This is just cleaning up the language.
JK: When took a first pass, were confused and needed to do more research.
RK: thanks to Anne for paying attention to detail. Motion to accept proposed changes.
AL: After had straw vote on Article 5, had questions from Ruthanne Fuller and Dave Wilkinson. Also reached out to Newton CFO. Documents have changes in color—copies are in B&W, however. Anne reads through the changes. Changes added precision to language and generally agreed upon by staff—see online version. In Section 5-4, changes are to make current with listing used. Section 5-6 changes are more precise and up-to-date.
BL: other copy has a question about moving a section 5.4b to 5.4g.
AL: was a suggestion from Ruthanne Fuller. Anne is neutral on that.
- Perfectly comfortable with the way it reads now. Moves for approval on article as amended.
BB: felt there was a lack of clarity. Developed a definition for “organization plan” and set a date that the council would be notified by. Is March 1 an appropriate date?
AL: City Council President felt March 1 was fine.
BL: that is the very latest—mid February is fine. Couldn’t be any later than March 1. Question about agencies—what else is included?
Collins: includes Board and Commissions. Not operational.
BL: Maybe be a little more precise in terms of reorganization.
Collins Center: add “departments performing municipal functions?”
BL: Why not use “departments?”
Collins Center: need to define “departments”
[Discussion about definitions]
JF: concerns about this. To what extent with this constrain the staff from making city agencies more effective? If every consolidation needs to be approved by City Council?
AL: purpose is to attempt to bring this to a higher level and define it….to solve the problem Jane is worried about. Issue is definition. Maybe put on hold for now? Agency is the wrong word…
Next meeting next week.
Adjourned 9:44 p.m.