Charter Commission Meeting 11-30-16

Newton Charter Commission Meeting

November 30, 2016

Attending:  Josh Krintzman (Chair), Rhanna Kidwell (Vice-Chair), Bryan Barash, Jane Frantz, Howard Haywood,  Anne Larner, Brooke Lipsitt, Karen Manning, Chris Steele

Approval of Minutes:  November 16, 2016 minutes–review of a vote on recall provision for minutes; approved as amended.

Public Comment:  

Ernest Lowenstein:  question about handout:  Section 6.1–reorganization plans by Mayor.  Does the reorg plan require City Council approval? [Yes was the answer.]  It doesn’t say so in the handout.  [Josh:  this handout is to aid in the discussion of “city agency.”]

Term Limits:  Handout in material explains current charter provisions as well as options.  

AL had circulated an article on term limits done by the Charter Agency for the City of New York;

CS:  found it very interesting.  When term limited office, those term limited (observed by the article) tend not to focus strictly on responsibilities of current office, but do work toward the next office they might run for.  

BB:  relying on state data for local information.  This is different if thinking of staying in the city since SC voted citywide–unless the idea is to think about state office.  

AL:  In NYC, because of the size, it was reasonable to use the state data.  It was worth providing food for thought.  What hit her the hardest was that political scientists have found when looking at state data that the relative power between a legislative body and a Mayor can be affected by term limits if have the same term limits.  Strong Mayor has full staff, lots of appointments and far more access to expertise than the legislative body has.  Then the legislative body is contained by term limits, it loses one of the smaller power it has by institutional memory.  The power balance is affect.

BL:  What she saw was related to area councils, which the CC has chosen to leave them in place–same token, where term limits exist, it becomes self perpetuating and it is almost impossible to do away with them.  Think that need to be very careful about imposing them, because it would be very hard to do away with them.  Their very existance in School Committee opens up the discussion.  Urges caution.

BB:  flip side is that having term limits, most people are fine with them.  They seem to be relatively popular  Vote in NYC to remove them that failed.

RK:  saw it positive that it was not overly parochial–in response to Chris’ comments.

CS:  agree is retaining a Ward Councilor situation, but CC is not.

RK:  doesn’t mean that people would think about being a state legislator just because of term limits.  

JF:  Example of moving from SC to City Council–not a power differential there.  Doesn’t see people looking to state office.  Article said that term limits are very popular among constituents.  

BL:  anti-government positions are popular.  Up to CC to determine what power government has and what the balance of power is.  Haven’t further empowered the City Council v. the Mayor.

KM:  that speaks strongly against Option C, where no limit on Mayor, but limit on City Council.  Remembered an idea about having longer term limits for the legislative branch than the Mayor–as brought up in the article.  Like a 12-year term limit for the Mayor.

JK:  What do we gain by term limits?  One reason is to encourage greater turnover–has worked well for school committee.  Recommendation on reducing size of City Council will do a lot to increase turnover.  Might have already addressed that with size of council.  Sees idea of creating equitability between Mayor and City Council.

BB: while consensus about 8 years for SC.  Is bothered that City Council has access to benefits that SC members can’t get.

BL:  on turnover question–memory is that without term limits, the general turnover in sister city councils is about 25%.  Remembers Rhanna thought ⅓ was a good target.  BL is inclined that may already have solve the problem by changing the size.  Might not need the extra control.

BL:  never met a SC member who did not feel that having term limits on SC and not on anyone else was a strange system.  All felt that 8 years was doable–didn’t mean they loved it or thought it was fair.  If move toward no limits on others, can’t keep that perception that 8 years for SC is fine.  

KM:  remembers that Brooke felt term limits should work as a system–all or nothing.  Would she feel comfortable?

BL:  Prefers that not have term limits on anyone.  Can understand inclination to keep term limits.  Lots of SC who leave before term limits.  Would prefer consistency, but would understand if CC felt that couldn’t undo the term limits on the SC.

JF:  important to consider each separately, given that work separately, have different responsibilities.  Been through the SC term limits a number of times–have a school system of 2000 people overseen by 8 people.  Very large parent population needs to feel that there is some buy-in–people they can see on regular basis.  Important to have history, representation of all levels in the schools.  RE:  City Council, can imagine a longer term limit, especially if it balances the power between the legislative and executive branch.

HH: Mixed feelings about this.  Original charter–term limits were imposed for personal reasons–someone was on “too long.”  If purely that feel some people have served too long, then should have term limits on CC.  Felt that someone had too much influence–why wouldn’t this be the same argument for CC term limits?  Confused about this issue–not sure that original reason was enough to arrive at that decision.  If going to do something like this, need to have strong argument as to why term limits would work.  SC term limits hasn’t been a disaster.

BB:  Shouldn’t think of comments from SC member as representative of all SC members.

JF:  concerned about school system.  Think that 8 year term limits work for school system.  Thinks about how the council serves the city–there is not a magic number for term limits.  SC is just a different animal–people who served on it previously would like the limit longer, but the current members say 8 years is fine.  Should not change it because of the pension dichotomy–not a good reason.  Would be fearful someone would stay on just to get the benefit–isn’t good for school system.

JK:  current situation, SC members aren’t eligible for pension opportunities.

RK:  term limits take power away from the voters.  Feels that in reality, the power of incumbency takes power away from voters to a greater extent.  Gets angry when people talk about ballot box imposing term limits–can’t do when someone doesn’t have an opponent.  Especially at local level, power of incumbency is staggering.  When choose to run, set up for a lifetime of discomfort with some neighbors.  Strongest opinion is about the Mayor–every leader has strengths and weaknesses, but over time weaknesses take their toll.  Never thought that it would be a good thing for a president to be able to serve more than 8 years.

BL:  want to respond to argument about incumbency.  No question that incumbents have an advantage.  But if that is one that we don’t want to live with, the logical extension is that no one should be re-elected.  Everyone should be one-term.  But there is a learning curve.  Everything the CC is doing is a balancing act; is the CC willing to say that someone doing a wonderful job is not eligible to run again?  That seems anti-democratic.  Doesn’t disagree about power of incumbency; doesn’t think that that is purely negative.  

JF:  talk a bit more about the Mayor.  More conflicted about that than the other position.  What are people thinking?

JK:  thinks that there is a power and advantage of incumbency.  That power diminishes with the amount of attention paid to the office–people are away of the job the person is doing.  It’s difficult on a large city council–incumbency advantage is very high.  Thinks it’s less so with the Mayor, because people are very aware–good or bad.  Does take the point that after a certain amount of time, people should leave.  Not sure what that time limit is.  Is a certain logic to have term limits on all offices–doesn’t need to be equal.  Can see logic to wanting to put a higher limit on Mayor, but give the City Council at least as much time to serve.

BB:  term limits is about consolidation of power, so is most important in the Mayor, who has the most ability to control power.  Power includes convincing City Council, encouraging others not to run, etc.  Weigh this and the fact that the executive has quicker power to make vision come true.  Hard to argue that 12 years isn’t long enough to see out a Mayor’s vision.  Is more comfortable with this term limit–more than the others.  

HH:  no president has seen their vision in 8 years…nothing to do with being president.  Had to do with the country.  Look at the history of Newton–other than Mayor Mann, who won by a tiny amount in his first election.  Mayor Cohen was term-limited by his vision–the high school.  Nobody sees their vision in 8 years–vision should be something you are always striving for.  Don’t think term limits has anything to do with it, but instead with what we think our government should be.  

AL:  motion to have no term limits on any office (Option d).  Brooke seconded.  

JF:  disaster for school system.  School are different from city hall–21 buildings working autonomously, overseen by large staff.  SC acts as a board–different from City Council, which provides constituent services.  Experience in other communities without term limits was a disaster.  People stayed way too long, accumulated too much power,  and got involved in the day-to-day management.  

BL:  there were times since the current charter when SC members were much more involved in the operations of the school department.  Over time, the SC has become much more focused on policy and giving guidance and direction to the superintendent, and operating as a Board of Directors.  Two different styles have happened with the existing system–so not the term limits that makes the different, but instead the culture of the body.

RK:  reminds everyone that talking 12 or 16 year term limits with not a lifetime limit–can take time off and run again.  Not a big limit–not denying people an opportunity to serve.  Doesn’t support no term limits because think need something to put a little more forced turnover.  

JF:  there have been individual members who have meddled and have enjoyed position on SC.  Finds this worrisome–affects quality of what happens in school, morale.  Important that SC negotiates contracts–when doesn’t go well, affects morale in school. Parents need to feel represented.  Could have SC with no members who are current parents.  

VOTE on motion:  4 in favor, 5 against.

BL:  motion to keep the current situation with no term limits on CC, Mayor, and 8 years on SC.  Seconded.

VOTE on motion: 4 in favor, 5 against.

AL:  motion that 8 year term limit for SC, 12 year for CC and 8 year for Mayor.  No second.

JF:  that motion would be an option that could support if were 2 terms or 10 years for Mayor (if came in mid-term)

BB:  when say terms, mean terms that were elected.

AL:  motion 8 years on SC and Mayor, 12 on City Council.  Seconded.

VOTE:  3 in favor, 6 against.

JK:  motion 8 years on SC, 16 on City Council, 12 on Mayor–option C with 12 year limit on Mayor; seconded.

JF:  always felt that longer term limits for City Council made good sense and could support.  

KM:  agrees with that, but felt some persuasive arguments for longer terms for City Council.  Tricky to introduce new scenario, but is comfortable with it.

VOTE:  2 in favor, 7 against.

JK:  if not agreement, then have the status quo–12 for Mayor and CC, and 8 for SC.

JK:  Also mention that Area Councils don’t have term limits.

BB:  motion to stick with current recommendation; seconded.

BL:  remember that at the time took the original vote, had 5-4 vote a couple of times.  She said that if cannot find something that can really agree on, we are probably making a mistake.  Will have to justify change to the current system to the public as part of responsibility in selling proposed charter.  If so divided about what the right change is, are putting selves in position about promoting produce.

RK:  did not discuss scenario blocks at that time; spoke on office by office basis.  Didn’t want to do term limits on CC when wasn’t sure about Mayor.  For 7 members, it was about which scenario, though 2 are against term limits.  

BL:  is a real concern.

BB:  agree, want more than 5-4 votes.  Made the motion now to see if split, people fallen off or if less divided.

JF:  spent a lot of time thinking about it, but public isn’t thinking about it.  People seem fine to let CC decide–more focused on other issue.  This hasn’t generated the kind of interest in the community that had expected.

BB:  sense is that imposing term limits gets a positive response, but that specific number is not identified.  More of a problem to NOT have term limits.

JF:  think haven’t heard because did take a straw vote on some term limits.  Struggling with the right number.  Has been a non-issue for the community.

KM:  two points–is the opportunity to correct what happened the last time. Is philosophically for term limits.  Is wondering if anyone sees Option A as a compromise?  That might satisfy a broader range of CC members.  

AL:  just makes the SC stand out like a sore thumb, like a second-class office.  Talk about the balance of power for negotiating with other parts of government.

JF:  Mayor does sit on SC as ex officio member and has more consistent contact.  Sees that as mitigating that.

BB:  seems to exacerbates it.  Then the Mayor has so much more knowledge than other members.

HH:  if look at total body of charter, the one recommendation has been about reducing the size of the Board of Aldermen.  With Brooke on the idea of passing the charter.  Going to have one major change and maybe wait on term limits.  Put into documents for charter review–that reconsider term limits at that time.  Might be stressing this too far, when the CC can’t even come to agreement on whether they are really good.  Everyone agrees that 8 years for SC seems to be working.  Now talking about something that hasn’t been done.  Thinks won’t see Mayors in long-term–new generation where people won’t stay in office so long. Maybe this isn’t the right time.

RK:  feels that big backers are extremely excited about term limits.  Gets the impression that 12 years is too long.  In a Charter Review, can’t do something like term limits–need a whole new Charter Commission unless City Council would impose limits on itself.

BB:  agrees, but thinks that will have more support by including term limits.  Come back fundamentally to 12 members, 12 year term limits, having a certain number drop off each time, allow more room for high quality people, with strong ideas and more competitive races.  Fundamentally thinks will work really well.

BL:  agrees that new structure in place will make for more competitive races, new faces every two years and a better quality of candidates.  Also true without term limits.  Keeps having a problem trying to find what they are solving by term limits.  Those on SC are the starting point for the discussion–they are an artifact from the last charter.  Collins Center sayd that this is a very rare thing in MA.  Term limits doesn’t mean the best SC.

JF:  remembers someone who made a public comment who said that term limits helped him focus his time.

KM:  doesn’t agree with Brooke about school committee–that they could just go on and on without term limits.  Have a changing climate and evolving problems that are unexpected.  Have a group that is well established, is unlikely someone will challenge them.  Now that two seats are open, have an extremely competitive race.  Attracting important candidates.  Need to have opportunity to have new voices.

AL:  read other studies; found that term limits tend to decrease competition because people wait for the open seat.  Different atmosphere about challenging someone if want change.  Wondered if people interested of term limits on SC and Mayor and none on City Council.

BB:  not where he would like to go.  Term limits are there so no one gets stuck there and that should apply across the Board.

RK:  no ideal scenario.  Feels that SC and City Council have equal term limits, with Mayor having one term shorter.  But feels that 8 years on Mayor is too short, and 16 years for the others is too long.

AL:  problem with straw vote (which supported reluctantly) was started to be concerned about having City Council and Mayor at the same level.  Research shows a lot about balance of power.  

RK:  how about 12 for Mayor and 14 for City Council–is that enough to make a difference?

JF:  starting to agree with Howard about just going around with numbers.  Is reluctant to settle on this today.

JK:  running out of time on the calendar.

RK:  would just stick with vote already taken.

CS:  Calls the vote.

VOTE (on current recommendation):  4 in favor, 5 opposed.

BB:  doesn’t feel comfortable with keeping the straw vote.

JK:  a lot of good points tonight.  Point about parity between SC and City Council–doesn’t have to be equal but need to have both or none.  Doesn’t feel the Mayor term limits are as needed.  Wrestling with power imbalance, Mayor limit should be shorter than City Council.  Feels 8 years is too short for the Mayor.  Proposed option C, but support wasn’t there.  Could increase SC term limits.

RK:  does anyone support 8 years for Mayor and why?

AL:  8-12 is the range and 8 seems doable.  Looks at current Mayor and thinks back about where he was when he came in and what has been done in 7 years.  He’s really got quite a few things that he can take credit for–school buildings, capital improvement planning, etc.  Major leaps forward in his vision.  That says to Anne that you can do a lot in eight years if focused and have people and support in community.

BL:  not disagreeing with Anne, but can do a lot in 8 years if everyone knows you’re not going to leave.  Do have lame duck phenomenon in years 5, 6, 7 when know that can’t run again.  That’s a concern.

BB:  as opposed to other levels of government, the person is a strong Mayor. Has more power if there is a problem in last term.  Think lame duck has more influence at the local level.

JF:  agrees.  At the local level, third term can be problematic for Mayor and community–earn friends and enemies at the same time.

HH:  Where is the evidence in favor of term limits?  We’re just talking about it because it’s there.  What has been done wrong?  What could convince him that term limits would solve?

BB:  can’t point to a specific issue.  Can point to SC…

HH: not talking about SC–what about those without term limits?  No one has convinced him that having term limits would have better government.

RK:  feels that data Anne presented showed that average turnover has steadily declined over 60 years to an unhealthy low level.  Prefers ⅓ new energy and ⅔ institutional knowledge.  Down to 20% here in Newton.  

JK:  if at-large pool works as supposed to, will have ⅓ challenged every 2 years.

HH:  public cares if City runs well. What is the solid argument in favor of term limits?

RK:  talking about potentially 12 year limits, which is average right now, meaning that many are over 20 years (3) and a few more over 16 years.

BL: talking about ⅛–doesn’t seem to her like too many who stay too long.  Seems like an overreaction to a few people who have been on too long.  May not agree on individual positions, but there hasn’t been any harm done.  To invent a system that isn’t obvious on the face of it, can’t come to a strong agreement, trying to deal with something very broad and not clear that this is a good solution.  

AL:  read from various sources that around 70% of national voting population supports term limits.  It is something that people like–doesn’t mean that should do it, but is perception that is a positive thing.

CS:  that doesn’t make it a good policy idea; fact that currently see tenure with current structure doesn’t mean that we will see that under a new structure.  Don’t have a consensus of the group to propose a huge change and put it in front of the populace.  

JF:  have difficulty with numbers, but not with general idea.

BL:  had 4-5 vote, with 4 people voting for no term limits.  That’s split.

BB:  some people feel new system consolidates power. Segment of population feels that going to one without term limits further consolidates power.  

BL:  if have come up with new model becuase feel that it won’t consolidate power and will encourage turnover–go out and make that case.  Feels that have come to a really nice model…can go out and sell to public.  Of course people have concerns about the reduction…but the CC has to recommend a system that will work–not to respond to polls.  This is a defensive position.

BB:  doesn’t see it that way.  Can sell that no one will be on for more than a certain amount of time.  Has a hard time why it’s of value to have someone on the City Council for a long time.

HH:  already making a change by reducing the size of the Board.  Has it happened with the new system?

BB:  we don’t know.

KM:  14% turnover shows it isn’t working well.  

JF:  We have data–it’s not about an individual person and what they have done.  It’s about a structure that is changing.  

HH:  If ask people how city of Newton runs, they will say stable and well.  Very little controversy about term limits–no problems with graft and bad behavior.  Fact that very few communities in MA have term limits…still not understanding why this is important.  Saying that need term limits to toss out people who have run the city well.

JK:  seems to be a consensus that term limits a good idea, but numbers are a problem.

RK:  16 on SC, 16 on City Council, and 12 on Mayor.  Seconded.

JF:  16 years on SC?  Talking about having a SC where none of the members have children in the school system.  Flabbergasted…

RK:  no one has to serve 16 years and don’t have to have kids in the school system to do a good job.

JF:  appreciated historic knowledge that people bring, but respect that what parents who have kids in school system bring to the table.  Have to have a system that enables them to be part of the system and doesn’t shut them out.  Finds this extremely problematic also with negotiations when teachers never see in their daily like the people who are negotiating.  

BB:  doubling SC term seems a bit more than prefer to go.  Haven’t really talked much about option B.  

JK:  only problem with current proposal is 16 years for SC.  8 seems to work well.  

RK:  for people who don’t like term limits, this is as close as going to get to not having term limits.

VOTE:  2 in favor, 7 against.

BB:  Option B–keeping them all at 12 years.

KM: would rather see Option C because it keeps 8 years, longer for City Council (which is supported by Anne’s article)

AL:  is OK with the 12 for City Council and 8 for School Committee.

BB:  withdraws motion.

KM:  motion to adopt option C:  12 for Mayor, 16 for City Council, 8 for SC

JF:  solved the problem that Anne has brought up about the differential.  

AL:  will reluctantly support this.

VOTE:  6 in favor, 3 against.  Motion passes!

Term limits for Area Council–leave to City Council.

City Council Compensation: document today includes potential language for reimbursement to City Council and School Committee members.  No formal mechanism for this.  

AL:  because the SC budget is separate and City Council has no line item control, is having what’s allowable to be reimbursed really appropriate for SC people to be part of an ordinance?  SC already has a mechanism.  

Collins Center:  why wouldn’t go into appropriation?  

BL:  problem with the language is that it doesn’t force the Mayor to make the appropriation.  

AL:  would be an internal issue for the school department.  No line item control by City Council or the Mayor.  Only line item control is by the Mayor.

BL: no line item for City Council.  Is a budget for City Clerk’s office.  Councilors are not entitled to expenses and don’t get them reimbursed.  

BB:  why not take out the language for SC and leave it in for City Council?

JK:  if leave that line, requires the Mayor to sign off on it.

BB:  ordinance is long-lasting, stays in the public record.  Question of whether set longer-term guidelines.

RK:  allows the mayor to approve, subject to an override.

BL:  about putting the money in the budget.  No incentive or requirement for the Mayor to put it in the budget.  If not there, is this meaningful?  

Collins Center:  no specific dollar amount, but language comes from other charters.  Examples include associations that City Councillors belong to, conferences, etc.  

BL:  if the Council passed an ordinance about this, it doesn’t force the Mayor to appropriate the money.

RK:  but if in the charter, doesn’t that force the Mayor?

BK:  reimbursable is not reimbursed.

Collins:  Mayor proposal a budget, the Council needs to pass it.  He needs to include it in his proposal.

BB: do you have to say subject to appropriation?  If trying to take Mayor’s choice out of this, can take it out.

BL:  spent entire salary paying for expenses…maybe not all reimbursable.

KM:  no problem on principle…just a matter of language.

BL:  this might be the best we can do…is a statement about values.  

JK:  hearing support for measure for City Council, not for School Committee.

AL: want it to be parallel, but take out last line.


Removal Provision:  question was raised if there way any way to remove an elected official who had committee an egregious act other than recall or removal?  JF spoke with Ouida…said no.  Given how long it takes to be convicted, an election is actually the solution to the problem.  By the time get to the point of removal, would have had an election.

Typically handled by recall and not removal.  Who enforces the provision if someone ignores it?  Ouida expressed confidence that we wouldn’t see elected official refuse to resign in the face of conviction.  Election should take care of problem.

Recommendation is to NOT include a removal provision.

BB:  feel more strongly include a recall provision.

RK:  also support.

KM:  felt that recall provision has a narrow window, but there is a reason for it…would support a recall provision.

AL:  could support on a four-year position.  Is the length of term that is the issue, not the principal.

JK:  no one else would support, so will move on.

Article 9 Draft Review:  Made a chance in 9-3–all redlined, discussion about removing the minimum re:  size of area council.  Right now, includes that the guidelines will only have a maximum and not a minimum.

BL:  should include both.

BB:  “may include a minimum and should include a maximum.”

[Murmur of support]

JK:  some disagreement on this point, so move on to other changes.  Typos discussed and items moved about/renamed.

Back to minimum/maximum discussion:  should there be a minimum in guidelines.

RK:  not saying what the minimum would be?

JK:  not clear if discussion included reference to a minimum….

BL:  if no minimum but a maximum, implying that there doesn’t need to be a minimum.  But need to clarify this…let the City Council decide on the number, but there should be a minimum.  

JF:  comfortable that the City Council will be thoughtful about this.  

KM: initial goal was to ensure a minimum.

BL:  goal is still the same, but Charter Commission thought should turn that number over to the City Council.  But should tell the CC that they need to have a minimum–without it, they could be in a rough spot.  

BL:  motion to leave original drafting, with minimum mentioned.  Seconded.  

VOTE:  approved 9-0.

9-4 Elections:

JF:  could be confusion between 9-4 and 9-6–Area Councils as elected bodies or that the Council by-laws could provide for appointment.  

JK:  9-4 is a mandatory recommendation.  Take out “for membership”

CS:  want them to be all elected.

BL:  ‘providing structure” will replace it.  Mandates elections.

Definitions of Article 1:  current definition has the exclusion of area councils–for indemnification.  If take out, shows what areas in charter are affected.

BL:  doesn’t want City Council delegating powers to the Area Councils–that’s right in 2-10.

BB:  according to this provision, can delegate that to any volunteer boards–not because not allowed by charter but by judgement.

KM:  in place of making an amendment to Section 11-5…way around adding indemnification for Area Councils.

BL:  don’t want to put the city in a position responsible for expenses by Area Council.  What if Area Council enters into contract for something–have to go through the City…

JK:  this is an unintended consequence of changing the definition.

JK:  preference to go back and include the exclusion from the definition of city agency.  Protects from unintended consequences.  Adds specific indemnity to the Area Councillors when acting in their official capacity.  

BB:  understands why city lawyers prefer to change the definition rather than add express indemnification.  They know what to expect that way.

[General discussion about how to fix this problem.  Reason that because Area Council has power to do things, but only on their own dime–they were excluded as a city agency so that they couldn’t access city offices.  That was all removed in the charter review]

BL:  motion to leave the definition as is now, and take out line about indemnification.

CS:  by leaving this sentence puts the Area Council in limbo as to what they are.  Are they indemnified?

Proposal includes redlined phrase for definition (going back to original definition in the earlier charter) and no specific mention about indemnification.

VOTE:  7 in favor, 1 opposed, 1 abstaining.

Meeting adjourned.

Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop

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