September 28, 2016
Article 9: Neighborhood Area Councils Review
In attendance: Josh, Brooke, Jane, Karen, Anne, Rhanna, and Bryan
Sallee: How should boundaries be created? By the mayor.
Valuable body? Yes! Volunteers. Elected. Collected information about local concerns and bring them to City Hall. Fair? Democratic process. Associations’ focus: cultural, bake sales, not-elected, not official. Taking away ward area councils not supporting NAC means you are stifling the voice of people.
David Olson: Presenting statistics of the NACs and the impact on Clerk’s office. NHAC was only one, held on municipal voting day. Minimal impact. LWVN staffed them, then stopped. Process became more complex with the addition of three other NAC. Ballots designed, printed, office staff organized them, polls staffed, swearing in ceremony. EV has to include elections for NAC in 18 precincts. Not set up for state boundaries election. Very time consuming for staff to figure out the neighborhood boundaries, check signatures and print ballots
Mark Kaufman: 4 NAC do not work together. Session was fascinating; It was the best of grassroots. Last Sunday was village day in NV. Spent lots of time talking about Orr Block, Austin St., the 12 person law-suit against it, linking the N side and the S side of the village. Surprised by the negative comments last week. NV meetings have businesses come, young, old etc. NAC provide vital information back to city councilors. Result of removing ACs from charter would delegitimize ACs.
Bob Burke: NHAC Got him thinking about “Do we represent people?” Started by getting involved in the dog park issue. Brought people together to hash it out vigorously! People are happy now. Current project is local historic district in NH. Setting up a comprehensive outreach program to contact everyone. We will follow up with everyone. We want everyone involved. I don’t know how it will turn out, but we will conduct a thorough process.
Maxine: NUFAC – Historically the dumping ground for TV towers etc that no one else wanted. Now we have a group who will go to the mayor, go to city council. NAC hears the little issues that wouldn’t otherwise be paid attention to. It gives little people a voice.
Maureen Reilly Meagher – David, did you compile the number of hours the clerks office spent on this. Surprised by the commissions thoughts to remove NAC from charter. It was significant hours to get signatures to form the councils. Forming the map would be a good start to spreading councils. Our meetings are open, our agendas are public, we are audited. That cannot happen with neighborhood associations. No outreach from the city otherwise. Move forward more cohesively.
Charter Commission Discussion:
Karen: Leading this article are Jane, Karen, Chris (not here). Reviewed for the last three months. Go to Newton.gov to see information they gathered. Successful hearing to air out issues for support and issues.
Jane: 1971 Charter, Article 9 included NAC. First time. Attended transition team in 2010 for S Warren. Only NHAC. (date?) Three added. Newton Center tried but had issues with signature collection. Difference between NAC and associations. ACs take on beautification projects, fundraising, advocacy. Assoc. another means of neighborhood associations. No elected board. Do undertake many of the same projects. Matt Miller trying to get Oak Hill AC going again.
Karen: Worchester City only other city to include ACs in the charter, but none ever formed. Some big cities have them: Tacoma WA, Spokane, WA, Washington DC, St Paul MN, Columbus OH, Los Angeles, CA
Current language in our charter, vague, confusing and outdated. Worthwhile to revisit language.
Jane: Have developed three scenarios after hearing all of the input from various sides. Are not placing any value judgment on any of the scenarios.
- Remove AC from the charter. Would be dissolved. Could be recreated within a city ordinance. Consequences? Grandfather in existing councils.
- Deliberate Article 9: how ACs are formed, boundaries, elections. Keep in charter, but deliberate purpose etc.
- Status Quo: redraft the language and reformat only. Is this scenario viable?
See September 23rd memo from Collins Center
Discussion: Rhanna – I’m not interested in the status quo. Anne – What could the substantive changes be? Language in important. What does cleaning up mean? Bryan – Valuable to talk through #2 as a starting place. I came in thinking, because of how complex this is, to remove NAC from charter and create an ordinance. Josh – No scenarios should be eliminated, but okay to start with #2.
Karen: #2 – deliberate what is worth keeping and what is worth changing. Jane: What belongs in Article 9? Brooke: Are we discussing whether or not we are keeping NAC in the charter? Karen: Look at title of article – The Neighborhood Area Councils. Purpose of the article to encourage citizen participation. Broader title: Neighborhood xxx – includes councils, associations, groups entities to involve citizen engagement. Expand the article to include other neighborhood groups? Concerned about the impact on the clerk’s office. Look at different possibilities for elections. Jane: problem with article 9.2-9.6 talks about the service area and signatures before boundaries are talked about. Process needs to be clarified. Form organically? Define a threshold for formation, so minimums and maximums are defined. Other cities, city sets up the boundaries. Some are set up and some do not. Boundaries can partially eliminate concerns of David. Josh – Charter can decide boundaries or people can decide or City council or Mayor can decide. NAC can be villages or wards. Rhanna – Village boundaries are not defined. Charter has to give someone the responsibility. Brooke: Does everybody need to be represented by an NAC? We could use Wards keeping in mind neighborhoods. There are rules about how wards are drawn. It would conform to State lines/rules? Rhanna: Precincts are defined by State law. Bryan: Why do we have wards and precincts the way we do: because areas should be equal in “value”. Jane: I’m in Waban, but on the line of NHAC. I can go to both depending on the issue. There is nothing in the charter to prevent me from participating in one or the other. Bryan: Is this a political layer of government or not?
Karen: Look at memorandum of discussion with David. No one else has this separate municipal election, lending itself to so much ballot confusion and frustration. Jane: David has expressed feeling overwhelmed and frustration.
Keep municipal elections or eliminate municipal election. Section 9.7. Read memo of affect of NACs on city staff. Clerks office cannot do it without adding staff. Work to be done between elections with people changing streets etc. Very low turnout, often uncontested elections Collins memo: Look at what other cities do typically. Govern their own elections and bylaws and remain unofficial or can then be appointed by the mayor and/or city council. Anne: What is done in other cities since the League did it in Newton, but doesn’t now.
Rep from the Collins Center: other cities do not have municipal elections. Require AC submit bylaws for how their elections will be held. Process approved by city. Operate as a non-profit, then send an official to the city (?) Brooke: We need to decide whether or not this is a political body. If it is we need to figure out away to include everyone. Universal, equal, logistically sound. Karen: Incredibly complex. What is the purpose of NAC needs to be defined. Jane: Some areas want to stay as an association for good reason, but want the representation. Brooke: Fundamental question is regardless of what it is called, does it function as a municipal part of the government? What is the difference between the weighting of the association and an area council. Anne: CH operates as a political entity. They don’t operate village days. They get in there and swing.
Section 9.8 .1: Four area to discuss. Advisory or Advisory & substantive authority from the city council? Nation-wide they are advisory. Brooke: I heard the ACs want to have more substantive authority; they want budget, staff etc. How do you do that since they are elected by such a tiny group of people. Bryan: City can set up any group and give it substantive powers. Rhanna: NAC do good work in an advisory role, but some area will not organize a council and so we cannot give existing councils substantive powers. Especially since there may be over 30 councils if the entire city is set up. Anne: I don’t agree with giving pockets of the city substantive powers. Bryan: This language we are talking about sounds more like a ordinance. Jane: When I attend WAC it is… When I attend NHAC it is much more like a forum.
Section 9.8.2: #3 issue of funds – charter says NAC may receive funds from people but not from the city. If we provided funds, we are providing money for some and not others. Bryan: City can make grants now. Why can’t City decide if it wants to give out money. Josh: Maybe if there were money there, more people would form. Jane: discussion with Councilor Rice about unbalance of funding. City is asking AC to undertake work without funding it.
Sections 9, 10, 11: Give over to city council
Area Council liaison with city staff: Dedicated interface, Adherence to Article 11 (interference), AC and Representation of community interface, Indemnify, Inclusion of business and nonprofits.
What would happen if we removed this article from the charter? Provide a transition provision. Grandfather. Order City Council to do something. Sunset them for five years. Encourage them to become associations. How do you want them to exist going forward?
Rhanna: We’ve gone through positives and negative, purpose, responsibilities and powers. How can maintain the good things about them and not further burden our city staff. I think they should have their bylaws and have a status of a board or commission and have their advisory authority. Can’t have a situation where there is inequity. Creation has to be organic; can’t force anyone to create an AC. Should be an ordinance referenced in the charter. Organizations are self-governing. We should only keep things in the charter that belong in the charter.
Bryan: Simple as possible. Acknowledge AC in charter. May exist by ordinance until city council decides to do something different.
Brooke: Disturbed by the fact AC are in the charter, but don’t represent everyone. My instinct is they do not belong in the charter. Means so many people are elected when we are trying to reduce the size of the city council. Add something to the City Council portion of the charter saying the councilors may authorize area councils blah, blah, blah. Not sure how I feel about the transition piece. Consider a sunset clause to put pressure on City Council to do something.
Jane: If this were 1971 I would not be including this article in the charter. Not sure how if happened. It doesn’t appear any other areas will create councils, which means an inequitable situation. Seems associations want to stay that way and AC like being ACs. Anne: So many pieces to this puzzle and so many sensitivities. People have put so much work into becoming AC it doesn’t seem right to cut them off at the knees, but how to make the situation more equitable. Passing it off to city council seems like a Pontius Pilot move to me. I like Rhanna’s approach. I want to do right by those who have developed an AC, but do right by those…
Josh: A government entity belongs in the charter. Problem is people self identify with villages and not wards. How does removal of NAC affected by the potential of removal of ward area councillor. Should be Ward Area Councils. Can’t see the difference between NAC and associations. People should be encouraged to form together. Fall off the wagon is giving people the ability to legally influence government. Do it by ordinance. AC disband and reform by ward. By precinct there would be 32 ACs. Wards are equal. Don’t know if precincts are equal by population. Have to deal with a transition section, but I am uncomfortable elevating them to a legal standing.
Karen: Simplicity. Organic, but turned over to City Hall. Grandfather ACs. Can’t turn my back on the burden on city clerk’s office. Define an official liaison to city officials. Need to commit to capturing in a neutral way what is happening in the neighborhood and reporting back.
Brooke: what happens to wards without AC? I’m uncomfortable about memorializing AC and fostering an imbalance. If the city council is going to listen to Bike Newton, NVA, Beautiful Newton etc. why should ACs belong in the charter?
Jane: How do we say we value neighborhood representation?
Rhanna: If we have Ward ACs, three are in one ward, so it is still inequitable.
Brooke: I don’t think AC belong in the charter!
Bryan: Give the new city council the flexibility if they think ACs should be formalized.
Jane: Bryan, should AC be an article in the charter?
Bryan: Kick the can down the road. If should be by ordinance.
Jane: An ordinance makes it more nimble.
Brooke: Sounds like we are all in agreement.
Josh: Handle in the transitional section
Bryan: Makes a motion that the city council may by ordinance establish area councils. (Scenario 1)
Brooke: Makes a motion to remove Article 9 and put the issue of neighborhood representation in Article 3.
Josh: Are NAC a layer of government? Bryan: Maybe. Let it be decided by City Council.
Karen: I think #1 is lacking. I like #2 so we don’t eliminate ACs and create chaos (?) Change elections, focus on powers etc. so there’s not so much xxx. We need to define AC more.
Josh: Suggesting article 9.2 be replaced. Add language suggesting city council takes into account NACs. I have trouble putting into the charter something that doesn’t really do anything. Currently city council doesn’t have to listen or delegate a thing.
Rhanna: need to acknowledge NACs exist. Josh: Yes, but they should be acknowledged in the Transition section.
Brooke: Need to avoid forcing the hand of the council in a way they may not want to. I would rather be permissive than instructive.
Jane: Which parts of it belong as an ordinance and which parts should be in the charter?
Rhanna: Clarify the process. Come back to this when we have some language.
Karen: What have we agreed to?
Boundaries to be defined, city cannot run elections, be in advisory role, the city may have an interface, they are indemnified,
Brooke: it should be in the charter’s preamble to encourage city councilors to take input from citizen groups. It goes to our values.
Josh: Let’s table everything else to our next meeting. Adjourned at 9:50pm
Submitted by Pia Bertelli