Charter Commission Meeting
October 26, 2016
Attending: Josh Krintzman (Chair), Rhanna Kidwell (Vice-Chair), Bryan Barash (slightly late), Jane Frantz, Howard Haywood, Anne Larner, Brooke Lipsitt, Karen Manning, Christopher Steele
Adding another meeting: possibly adding a meeting on December 7, 2016, but need to confirm time and availability of a room.
Minutes: October 19, 2016 minutes approved with minor changes, 9-0.
Sue Flicop: Election of Area Councils should be by the Election Commission. Why should Area Councils get special consideration in the charter? There are other city groups out there–the PTOs for example–that provide a service to the city and are fairly interwoven in city operations. Area councils can do the same thing, but as their own non-profit organizations, just like other community organizations in Newton.
Sallee Lipshutz: suggests improvements in the language by the following changes in the areas of formation, election, powers and duties. Should not adopt having a liaison—wants to be able to connect directly with city-operated departments.
Nathanial ???: Area Councils required to have open meetings and to public record law. Hold them accountable and transparent.
Bob Burke: difference between neighborhood association and area council is that have to assure that people are treated fairly and equally.
Don Ross: support of area councils—haven’t seen any problem. “Equity issue”–other neighborhoods can establish an area council too. Concern about elections is like the “tail wagging the dog.” Urge CC to keep the Area Council as part of the municipal elections—more participation, more involvement. If have to adjust some of the lines, ways to adjust that.
Article 9 Discussion:
JF: develop framework that allows them to work collaboratively with City Council. Wouldn’t be required to get approval from City Council. Outlined process so far…City Council would establish the boundaries, elections by city ordinance, AC should provide advisory functions, whichbcan be further determined by City Council, and indemnified by city.
RK: took language from 1971 charter. Purpose is no longer citizen engagement but to reaffirm area councils and provide for their continued operations. Doesn’t feel sentence about advising city council to next section.
AL: agree with wording. Want to add that area councils are an option to encourage participation—there are other ways to encourage it. Acknowledge that parts of the community use other options…and assure that there is access to municipal government by all such organizations.
BB: for that purpose likes Rhanna’s language about reaffirming. Make sure that whatever enabling language is there before establishing boundaries.
AL: agree with what Sallee proposed—importance that Area Councils are at the initiation of the citizens—response to citizen participation. Didn’t envision City Council imposing area councils around the city. They approve them as a response to citizen petition.
BB: hesitate with that, since that is the case now. But 20 years from now, if there are a lot covering most parts, might make sense to have area councils for all of them.
KM: address that in 9-2.
RK: purpose is to reaffirm newton’s area councils and provide for their continued operations [and formation of new area council.] NAC are intended to encourage citizen engagement at the neighborhood level.
AL: agrees with BB that this change takes away the need for her perspective.
JK: didn’t hear anything about enabling new ones.
RK: [language that added that above.] The creation etc is covered elsewhere.
BB: need to give broad grant of authority before specific powers.
RK: that’s not the purpose though.
BL: guard against language that implies that existing area councils have got some sort of special endorsement [wordsmithing]
Section 9-2 (and others?)
KM: boundaries are the next issue. Agreed that boundaries “creation” and not “formation” so hope there is no confusion. Did leave boundaries with the council, they would establish signature gathering, rules, etc. This is the time if someone wants to include creation rules about all that. Section A reflects what Brooke had proposed—parameters about how they are created (size) and Section B Josh added in response to add more structure.
JK: Second sentence should be the number of residents (not voters)
RK: Newton Upper Falls AC is already outside the limits established. Said minimum of about 2750, so limit might not work.
BB: might be amenable to growing.
RK: argue against that….need to go collect signatures, etc.
CS: don’t have to alter—can grandfather some area councils in.
JK: wards are all supposed to be equal in size—can say no fewer than the average number of residents in a precinct.
BL: discussed did not want to have a giant area council, one that would become a counterpoint in power to City Council. Area Council have got access to resources in city, if their boundaries are too big, they have the clout and influence others don’t have.
Discussion: rules are not to be applied retroactively—they are guidelines for going forward. But haven’t discussed that yet.
BB: granting authority to the City Council and can address what they think should happen in side documents. It will be up to the City Council.
KM: putting more in ordinance and leaving undefined means that latitude for correction and redirection by the City Council, which can craft something of benefit to the city.
CS: language in there—implication is that is for those to be created will follow these rules.
Discussion: share concerns about having a mega-councils than too small. Want to put to city council so that it isn’t in the charter.
JF: reason minimum is because there was an attempt to have a very small area council and gerrymander the boundaries to their advantage. That is the reason to give to the City Council.
AL: do the flip and just put the maximum in there—real fear is disproportionate power. On the minimum side, the Council would be alert enough to not approve such an action. Harder to deal with a large group than to say no to a small one.
BL: reason she proposed minimum was the possibility of ending up with dozens of them. Every single one demands resources from the city that are limited in their availability and takes resources from elected officials. More encourage any size, doing a disservice to the city at large by not having a minimum meaningful size.
RK: agree, but could still end up with 32 in the city.
JK: Do we deal with the issue of equity in the charter, or require it of the City council, or leave it alone? New/existing treated similarly or differently. Potential overlap—require that any resident only covered by one area council? Require whole city to be covered by area council? Confusing ward and precinct v. village.
BL: trying in her suggestion to say that can’t end up with more than 32 on the one hand, but on the other can’t have them be larger than 1/8 of the population. Needed some logical construct and ward/precinct came to mind.
JK: talking about actual boundaries.
RK: thought that was to be left to the ordinances.
BB: sentence removed from 9-1 needs to be in there before these issues are discussed. Giving the City Council broad authority on area councils.
Discussion: new section 9-2 called “authorization”
JF: originally been thinking about creation v. formation
AL: big difference between getting bogged down in details v. having something that requires citizens to start the initiative.
JF: creation of area council by petition to city council to provide services that the city provides, signed by 20% of voters—sets a high standard. Does not allow city council to change standard over time for establishing an area council.
BB: city council should be able to specify a city-wide option. Uncomfortable that it allows differences among city councils.
BL: no objection to setting a minimum threshold in the charter for signatures, but would then add a disclaimer about guidelines established by the city council.
Collins: everything said moved toward adding services.
JF: not what intended.
RK: prefers original idea of having the City Council set ordinances—doesn’t want to get into any specifics.
Discussion: city council should have the authority to approve citizen petitions for the formation of area councils [according to ordinance.]
JK: want to add this is 9-1 that city council can establish on their own or can happen by petition.
RK: oppose the idea that City Council establish area councils. Should be only citizen petition.
Discussion—change 9-1 so that city council can’t impose them on any area. Now the “new” 9-3 will start with city council establishing area councils by ordinance.
BB: thinks that the authorization to approve petitions should be separate from the broader authority to establish area councils.
Discussion—ask Marilyn at Collins for her recommendation. Don’t want anything that would be interpreted that City Council being able to establish area councils on their own. But Bryan wants to broaden language.
BB: “CC shall establish by ordinance the governance of neighborhood area councils.”
HH: why is this in the charter. Everything that the City Council shall…by ordinance. Why not leave it to the City Council? Seems like creating area councils and giving all the responsibilities to the city council.
RK: general feeling that current article is way too detailed, but leaving out will leave it to the city.
HH: if that is the case, the language should be very basic. Just maintain that you can have area councils and assure the voters. Not going to be able to resolve the minutae.
KM: trying to strike a balance. Charter Commission agreed in past that come up with something more thorough after first had something very short. Create a draft that strikes a balance and shows respect to supporters of area councils.
JK: still need to have a vote on whether to include it or not.
RK: doesn’t support keeping part about advising city council and mayor on citywide issues. Is in powers and duties section.
BB: still need to broadly grant authority (see above.) Then say that they have the authority to approve petitions.
Discussion about size of area councils.
BB: has faith that the city council won’t let it get to that point where there are mega-councils.
BL: the city councils won’t got against a huge group of people.
KM: 2010-2011 beginning of effort to create a new framework and structure of area councils. A smaller City Council could create a completely new vision. Agree with Brian that can form a partnership—can’t do it all here. Rely on city council to keep things in control. Maybe could say “use best efforts to use precinct as a guideline.” Encourage the minimum and have a hard maximum.
BL: worried about “best efforts” in the charter. Not charter language.
Collins: all reasonable efforts.
RK: city council did disapprove of one.
BB: part B might be best place to mention size—not a hard limit.
JK: Are going for minimum or max? Hard cap or suggestion?
BL: no such thing as village boundaries? Hard to define them. In a way, that is academic. Question of having a group of people with similar concerns.
Discussion on boundaries:
BB: part of the problem is that being too precise. Should move to a higher level.
JK: Minimum is out. Moving on…Tried to capture principals from redistricting commissions—compact, contiguous, using existing boundaries, etc.
AL: Question equal population—sending mixed messages. Acknowledge various size councils.
RK: only like 1, 2 and 3. 5 is vague and should sit with council.
Discussion about neighborhood cohesion.
HH: this is no reasonable. Trying to resolve a problem that is not theirs. Cannot put language in charter commission and make it equitable to all people trying to serve. Maybe doesn’t belong. Have so far not removed anything but has moved things around. Why hasn’t any other city or town in MA adopted area councils? Because they become political—intention that they advise the Mayor is not the intent. They do some great things otherwise.
KM: Bryan raised question of membership or composition of area councils. Motion was made last time to refer to composition set by ordinance and added to 9-2. Not accounted for in draft. Propose that not include this until section 9-5.
Discussion on keeping in “contiguous”—do we REALLY want to put that in the charter? Take it out
KM: Elections: points out that no other city has city council run area councils. Powers and duties:
Discussion: change to serve in advisory capacity. Move to Sallee Lipshutz’s language on this part—advisory capacity and communications. Applies to all area councils.
CS: does that language open the door toward substantive authority for area councils? “such other functions as prescribed by ordinance.”
KM: “shall include requirements for area council by-laws providing for membership and the conduct of its business and the reporting of its financial records. From original charter in 9b.
KM: area council liaison—wanted to define a little more before discuss including it.
BB: (presenting potential language) intent is to have that person be the initial point of contact.
AL: concerned about putting this in the charter. Should be the prerogative of the Mayor to determine how he related to the area councils. A lot of ideas discussed probably won’t make it into the charter. Lisle Baker has suggested that CC put some things in writing—try to draft letter to Mayor and City Council and outline some of the issues, challenges and possibilities regarding area councils.
KM: highlight two paragraphs in NHAC board resolution that helped ensure representation. Could include that in a letter.
KM: generally agreed that no liaison in the city charter.
Discussion: were going to include concept of indemnification. Not exclude area councilors from definition of city agencies in Article 11 . Then don’t need all the language.
BL: opposed to that.
JK: sure about all the ramifications? First sentence makes reference to elected officials—already put restrictions on that. Need to look at article 11—change the definition of city agency. Check with Ouida on ramifications.
JF: Ouida just sent an email about this—change definition of agencies.
Collins: does that mean have access to city resources? Staff people, space, office support?
Discussion: scratch large edits. Need to discuss is they are subject to conflict of interest laws, be considered municipal officials, get city benefits, etc.—all part of city agencies.
Collins: performing a statutory function established by ordinance.
BL: getting to the point where critical to continue Howard’s conversation. Looked at Collins Center info—looked at cities larger than Newton that have area councils. None in the east, except DC. They relate to another city agency—all have city funding, staff, or ability to get it. Are organizations that report to an established city structure. Only other city in MA that has enabled area councils in Worcester and they haven’t chosen to employ them. Rationale by proponents: grass roots organization, have elections, have open meetings, follow public records law, everyone’s opinion is represented—they don’t need to be part of the charter to follow any of that. Ms. Flicop pointed out PTOs that provide some similar functions to area councils—they are not city agencies, the city does not run their elections. This makes no sense—the fact that they exist is not a reason to continue and enhance their existence. If we took them out of the charter, need to have a discussion about what would happen to them. They won’t disappear—if we started from scratch today, would be establish them as an institutions? I think not. Continue to fail to see why we haven’t addressed the equity issue? The issue of simplification? Doesn’t make sense to her?
KM: at all worried aobut changing too much and changing local representation? Looks like very unfriendly to local representation.
BL: don’t think they belong there. Hear the concern, but doesn’t think area council belongs there. This change affects a small portion of the population. Nothing in taking them out of the charter that makes it impossible for them to exist. They could exist with with the same name.
BB: something about having elections—those who people felt would represent them the best were voted in. City Councilors said area councils were helpful. There are some political issues and growing pains issues—seems like the residents who have them are happy with them and we should continue the experiment.
CS: The language that CC worked on allows for flexibility and adjustments for those things that are going well and not going well. Can respond to events on the groups as they happen.
JF: feels they should be in the charter and governed by ordinance. When in the charter, then hard and fast for a very long time. If things start to go wrong, ordinances can be changed. Sees various groups in the city as different ways for people to become engaged in their communities. This is one way that people can do it. Activists who have formed area councils—put in tremendous time and energy, though there have been start-up issues. To take it out of the charter disbands four area councils and that is a concern for her. Giving city council authority can provide nimbleness.
BL: why do we enshrine this one way to become engaged, when we do not handle the others similiarly.
BB: practical point for him. Can you have the City Council establish an elected office if not mentioned in the charter?
JK: close to the line with Brooke. Made a lot of really good points. A lot of charter commission members value the work that the area councils have done to get to where they are….thinking if this belongs in the charter? Doesn’t simplify the ballot? Get a chance to craft city structure. Very involved in his neighborhood association and it would perform very well without article 9. Not saying that area councils aren’t valuable, but should it be in the charter.
RK: still haven’t discussion transitional piece if not provided for in the charter. Identify with everything Brooke said, however, do have area councils. One has a very long history and has had influential members. Has generated a tremendous amount of support from the community. Need to have some mechanism to preserve what is good about them.
BB: for those concerned about equity, which he is, what makes him feel comfortable is that other areas could have them if they don’t know.
AL: key point to her. All have some ambivalence to area councils, but all respect the hard work and effort that the service is provided. Go back to thinking about size of change—strongly about deleting ward councilors. Area councils are a counter balance to that other move—is not a wise move to do away with the option of area councils.
JK: would rather keep ward councilors than area councilors. Makes more sense is a cleaner concept.
JF: agrees with that.
JK: either way have to review the transitional provisions. They are worded very similarly whether article 9 exists or not.
BB: Motion that subject to final draft, plan to include an article 9 along lines of what discussed today. VOTE: 6-3. Motion passes.
Reorganization plan: would include any city agency—does that include departments? In section 6-3 uses the term “city agency” in it already. Intending to do was to clarify what reorganization was by figuring out what agency was.
BB: would include Boards and Commissions.
Also add March 1 deadline.
BL: move that adopt definition and deadline.
VOTE: 9-0. Motion passes.
NOTE: language is very different than current charter. Much of that language is controlled by state.
BL: portion of the charter that permits citizens to have impact on what the government is doing outside elections.
Start with current option 10-1a. No reason to change individual requests to city council or school committee.
10-1b. require 50 or more voters sign a petitions—suggest change to 100 so that there is a level of significance. Reduce notice of hearing to the first 10 on the list. Questions about mailings—possibility of emails? How mail something 48 hours and still have person receive it in time? Need to have something physical…
10-2: Increase number of petitioners from 50 to 200. only Other change proposed in section is that there be a petitioner’s committee of 10. People who file the measure.
10-2c: propose 10% of voters need to sign in 90 days. Current charter is 6 months. Reason: is a hot issue, why take so long. Why? Practical reasons—things die down. But is hard to get 10% of voters. Online petitions are not considered valid? What if happens in the future? Would be determined by state. Push back by those who have collected signatures—discussion about nature of information and education needed, ability to collect signatures at different parts of the year. What is the harm in keeping 6 months? Keep at 6 months then.]
10-2d—e: need to allow citizens direct access to the ballot if the city council refuses. They collect another 5% in 45 days. No change from current charter.
10-2f: change is that special election is the default position—issue of some importance, so deal with it promptly—unless municipal election close by. Forces the council to deal with it.
Discussion: why have special election? Could be up to two year to wait, since can’t have during a state election. Maybe go to 180 days instead of 120? Yes.
Section 10-3: haven’t changed referendum procedure. 20 days after a vote, signatures from 5% of voters is what it takes. Most charters ask for 10-15% in 20 days—felt that was a lot and too demanding. Discussion—this is trying to stop something from happening—should be hard. Can always do a petition to repeal law.
Section 10-4 is the same.
Section 10-5: BRAND NEW—recommendation is that 20% of the total number of registered voters participate for the vote to be valid. This is more than typically shows up at local elections. NOTE: State requirement on state referendum is 30%. Refers to regular municipal elections.
Section 10-6: no changes
Section 10-7: from the state. Adding that language.
Section 10-8: current charter gives the Mayor power to veto. Change would take away Mayor’s veto—is this a way around a potential Mayoral veto?
Recall elections: in MA, half the cities have recalls, half don’t. Recommend that do not permit recall election. The impetus is some portion of the population is angry about some action—the way to handle it is through a referendum, not a recall. Did think about unpleasant possibility that someone might not be suitable for office is committed a felony—therefore, have an exception if person is finally convicted. Might want recall petition before found guilty…or what if person is found not fit for office without being found guilty of a felony. Usually the bar is high—short time period and lots of signatures. Is a protection for citizens in extreme case. Do worry about people being railroaded…General consensus is to add it in. Wouldn’t apply just to Mayor? Discuss next time.
Motion to accept article 10 with the changes discussed—180 days, 48 hour mailing notice, Mayor’s veto action, remove section 11-7: VOTE: 5-2-1 (Haywood left early.)
Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop.