Charter Commission Meeting Observer Notes 11-16-16

Charter Commission Meeting

November 16, 2016

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

Approval of Minutes: Minutes of October 26, 2016; approved with minor amendment.

Public Comments:

Reenie Murphy: talk about term limit discussion; in favor of longer terms for School Committee. Had benefit of being only newcomer when she came on—had a lot of experienced people to help her with the learning curve. Sometimes have 5 new people at the same time. Rare that person hits the ground running. She probably would have stayed a few more years. 12 year term is not unreasonable. If people get opposition every few years, then that takes away their focus while they worry about reelection. Her kids spanned 19 years in Newton Public Schools—she served 8 of those years. SC members could benefit from being there a bit longer. Not everyone chooses to stay all 8 years now. Keeping depth of knowledge is a good idea.

Lisle Baker: urge CC to think again about the issue of Ward Councilors and district representation. Value of having local knowledge and local activity. No one here as run for a Ward race—natural sentiment to look at at-large as positive. One of advantages—not necessarily responsible to people involved, can be more independent. Value in ability to evaluate from a dispassionate perspective. Not dispassionate on Ward issues. In a citywide council race, have a Mayor elected citywise, but could see situation where Mayor and Council need to represent somewhat different constituencies. Not always certain that chief executive would always be positive. Area Councils do not exercise any authority—need body that does with local representation. Ward Councilors turn over less frequently than those at large. Perform an important function for the city and important to retain them.

Amy Wayne: agree about keeping Ward Councilors. Chosen by the district. Want to keep council to 24—get wide range of opinion and ideas. Distribue the work among more people. About recall process—would like to add that for the Mayor and the Councilors.

Diane Pruenty: Also support keeping Ward Councilors—important to keep representation from each area who is responsible to the area. Important to have a recall process for Mayor and Councilors.

Kathleen Hobson: composition of City Council.   Still prefer one voted on in April. Reasons are the same ones they talked about in April. More effective, efficient, cooperative, attendant to big picture, retain ward representation, key features of Model City charter. One per ward with at-large pool—best people, don’t have to challenge sitting councilors who feel are effective.

Deb Crossley: particular concern about clarifying the balance of power between executive and legislative branch. When can executive make a unilateral decision regarding the use of city resources. Two situation recently—use of former branch library in Newton Corner by a private non-private and solar share program, where credit have value. Council was not consulted in either case, which would the normal procedure. Council appropriated $350K to renovate the house in Newton Corner—Parks and Rec were to be moved into that building, which was in substandard facilities on Crescent Street. During summer of 2015, executive ordered Parks and Rec to move into Kennard House, which still need renovation. The use of recently renovated building went to private co called Mass Challenge. Meant that other uses needed to leave Kennard Estate. Law Department suggested that a charter clarification might be in order—about licensing city property is not in the charter. Has suggested wording for Article 5 about use of resources about appropriations and use of city property/resources. Real life situations haven’t been handled the way the city charter intended.

Nathanial ??: suggest increasing city council term limits—14 or 16 years. Learning curve is very steep, so giving them more time would be appropriate. About city council composition, if go with plan they propose, what do you tell a ward that votes 65-35 in favor of one candidate, but has that candidate lose and they don’t have representation on the city council? Average citizen doesn’t have that much impact on councilors outside their wards. There are many city councilors that Nathanial has never met, so having local person is important. Hope that CC finds some way to not have everyone at large. Allows for a slate of “everybody” to be elected on the same platform. Feels a diversity of opinions would be better and we should be careful about giving everyone the same electorate in the city.

Lois Levin: hell of a lot easier to get to know 12 people and not 24. Is possible to get to know everyone if have the energy. Reinforce what Kathleen Hobson said—would have written something similar.

Lisle Baker (redux): times when licenses do not need to go through the Board. Maybe think about using an ordinance in Deb Crossley’s examples instead of putting it into the charter.

Deb Crossley (redux): Ouida Young specifically suggested that the charter would be the best way to do this.

Recall (Brooke and Jane): Article 10. Will of the body was to try to develop what a recall provision would look like before decide. Has document…Section X-X: changes are bolded and underlined. Framework: If have recall provision, who does this apply to? Different terms for mayor and council. If there is going to be recall, also need to have one for area council members—need to have for all elected officials. How many people have to ask for one? Needs to be significant enough that not just a small group miffed about an issue. Originally felt that recall would be about a specific issue, so want a number that is broader. Suggested 500 signatures—high end of communities that actually have such provision. Represent 1% of the voters, so maybe 1% for Area Councilors? If whole thing is valid, suggest 28 days for 15% of voters—both at high end of what communities have done. Then if signatures valid, recall election within 45-75 days (want to do this fast), then vacancy would be filled with a special election or whatever is required under other charter provisions. Does this have enough appeal that go into more detail, or talk about the concept in general?

RH: this is what expected to see…a typical provision.

CS: should this apply to all elected officials or just a subset? Is 2 year term enough to justify a recall? Should it just be for Mayor?

Brooke: couldn’t do 1st 6 months or last 6 months, so there is 50% of tenure of a councilor’s term when they would be susceptible.

AL: research showed that couldn’t be done in the first 12 months.

BL: could be the 2rd, 3rd or 8th term.

AL: seems reasonable to keep to offices with more than 2 year terms. Maybe leave language based on term length, in case the length of terms changes in a future charter review. If put recall in there, would tie it to length of office. Greater than 2 years?

BB: 15% collection requirement in 28 days would take the wind out of the sails of those likely to try right away. An elected official would have to do something so odious that the community would want to remove them—lost trust in this person Wouldn’t mind that being applied to a 2-year term.

BL: what if community upset with how election goes—might be that someone in a two-year term might still be a target.

RK: would be used rarely or maybe never. Extreme case for people to attempt that. Feel fine with it be on offices with 2 year terms. Thinking more about back end—process takes almost 4 months from when submit 500 signatures. If limit to someone with more than 6 months remaining, then should it be done?

BL: would be held to the 20% barrier for voting for referenda. Could be used as a political instrument, even close to an election.

AL: Then maybe shouldn’t do it.

BB: see worry about danger of abuse, but thinks more to recent examples in other parts of country—what if someone refused to resign?

HH: if all elected officials are included and still have ward aldermen, who could sign?

BL: if area councils, only people within that district would be allowed to sign or vote.

HH: could really be used as a political instrument. A ward aldermen might do something not good for another ward, but only voters in his district could actually vote him out?

RK: have only at-large in proposal now. If add back ward councilors, then need to revisit.

JK: can only have registered voters in that ward voting on a recall.

AL:   reinforces idea of having councilors at large—case to support direction already going in.

BL: comment about at-large people being elected when minority vote in their own ward…

JK: Like idea of keeping it to terms with more than 2 years. Would like to see consistency with vacancy provision in charter—currently 9 months. In terms of timing of election, believe it is normally 64-90 days to comply with law and to get ballots overseas.

Collins: has to be 64 days when person on the ballot—in this case there is no person.

BL: are situations where simultaneous elections to recall and replace. Don’t want to do it simultaneously.

RK: have provisions if it’s the Mayor.

BB: if will apply to Mayor and do it at different times, have different political problems.

HH: term limits are determined at the ballot box. Why not just let that happen if the recall process is so long and arduous?

JF: voting no on it. Is a good solid article, but is concerned that recall is focused on an individual and a referendum is on an issue. Wants to make referendum more accessible than a recall.

BB: hope it would only be used when a serious issue about someone’s integrity.

JF: can’t guarantee that in the charter.

KM: worried about egregious behavior—if don’t have anything in the charter, what do you do to address these behaviors?

BL: urge the chair to at least take a straw vote on where the commission sits. Neither drafters support this, so see if discussion is worth continuing.

RK: can guarantee (since collected 15% in the past) that will not be used so easily. Is insurance policy or safety valve. Most people would resign, but have person who will not and need a way to get them out of office.

BB: On federal level, no recall but there is a process. There is no process here now.

JF: had suggested a removal clause—if convicted of a felony—but it didn’t go down well.

RK: because the legal process takes so long.

HH: recall discussion is about a person that a group isn’t happy with. Wrong reason to have a recall. Why is it necessary if it probably will not happen? Haven’t needed it before?

BB: too many example nationally. Is rare, but when it does is egregious. Under current charter could be the Mayor for 3 more years.

KM: Can removal clause be expanded?

HH: if put in the charter and can’t comply with it (within 28 days), why have it in?

RK: would only happen if something egregious—front page of the Boston Globe. Safeguard is that people will not sign petition if not something that has been publicized?

BB: Thinking for example of case of Anthony Weiner. Thinks likely someone would resign, but what if not?

JK : motion that approve the language proposed in recall provision (include candidate on the ballot), not in the 1st 6 months and last 9 months. Bryan seconded.

RK: oppose having candidates on ballot—confuses the issue. What if want to remove official, but don’t like alternatives.

BL: amendment to remove the simultaneous election from the proposal. Seconded.

BB: can add a line that if removed from office, cannot run to be their own replacement? Collins: yes, think so.

Amendment passed—now no candidate on ballot, but rest of draft stays.

Vote on article: not passed, voted down 6-3.

City Council Composition:

Rhanna: considered 5 scenarios, agreed on the 8 and 5 split for city council. Got feedback from a variety of sources—biggest is that support for scenario D and for continuing having ward-only councilors. Revisited it in August—considered the 12 member council—8 at large by ward, 4 by district at large. Commissioners still want to downsize by half and for all to be elected at large. One councilors suggested having an even number. Continues to receive feedback and done more research. Have three scenarios: April, August, and ward council scenario.

With all at-large, how frequently win city wide and lose within the ward. Looked back to 1993 (11 elections, 170 at large seats, 41 contested races—3 or 4 candidates) 9 occurrences when won citywide but not within ward or lost citywide but won home ward. In SC, since 2001, 8 elections, only 2 occurrences.

BB: found data helpful. Some quick observations—people won home ward, lost citywide who eventually did win. Two people on commission who were victims of this process.

JK: thought SC was a good comparison, since one seat per ward.

RK: benchmarch cities: if have at large pool, is it challenged more often (held more accountable)? Used whatever data found on internet from peer cities; 12 cities, 47 elections back to 2005. Not a huge data set, but data is telling. 96% of time at large candidates are challenged. As far as ward-based councilors, only contested 45% of time, not necessarily evenly spread. Took Newton out because we are really a hybrid—in one analysis added 24 ward seats, but then did it again with just 8.

One other piece of research—concentration of people coming from one ward with too much emphasis. Called 6 city clerk offices—anectdotally is this an issue in your city. Do people feel this is an issue? They found the question surprising…have a very complementary relationship with ward and at-large, who represent the whole city. If all from one section that is the will of the voters. At large councilors tend to show up to everything. In other cities, they are real ward councilors and truly at-large councilors. IN practice, six cities had no experience like this—balled by question.

JF: wards that were affected when won citywide and lost ward, were 1, 2, 3 and 4—all north side.

BL: appreciate work Rhanna has done. Makes her feel even more comfortable with totally at large pool—only make again the suggestion that move from 13 to 12 for the simplicity of the internal operations of the body. Not significant different to the citizens. Motion to accept originally agreed upon scenario but switch from 5 at-large to 4. AL seconded.

CS: concern about at-large pool. Focus is diluted and concept of being accountable to voters in a yes/no situation is important.

BB: Flipside is that in pool can have people elected by a certain block that is less than the majority.

HH: Rhanna’s work is so compelling. When has an issue, calls the councilor who he thinks if the most appropriate—doesn’t think about who is his ward aldermen.

CS: thinking more of the district model

HH: is too complicated at this time. Another whole big issue about how combine certain wards.

AL: understand folks concern about having someone from their ward represent them. Model is similar to SC over the years—haven’t been very many times that people from a certain section felt there wasn’t representation. Has served the individual districts well. At large pool might get more people interested in running, and increase the pool and mix of people.

BB: thinking of districts—how complicated it could be. Huge problems with voter information.

KM: supports the 12. Great to have opportunity to think about proposal especially where getting push back. Vote to keep area councils but have them defined—could help with local representation. Can rework the responsibilities, especially with 311.

CS: people would get used to the names of the districts. Wants to challenge the notion of the value of encouraging people to run who don’t want to run in a binary race. If situation brings forth people who are not comfortable advocating themselves, that might not be best for the city.

JF: people like geographic representation. Districts are appealing and work well in Burlington, VT. Concerned that has a part of the city that has not been represented—lost ward representation in favor of votes by the city. If did ward and district, could do both at-large. They would feel represented. Concerned that the group of 4 might be the people with the greatest name recognition. Wants to have some structure to that group of 4.

BB: actually feel like name recognition might matter less with at-large pool, v. working hard and running a really effective campaign.

BL: not mutually exclusive—both can be true.

RK: focus on diversity of Newton—geographic, economic—highlights need for ward-based representation with the need for everyone to answer to the whole city. Benefits of at-large pool outweigh the downside.

BB: councilors have filled in gaps where city hasn’t been as responsive.

JK: district preservers that geographic diversity, but does so at a cost—confusion, when an overarching goal has been to simplify. Less concerned if challenged each time—if have the right person, doesn’t care if they aren’t challenged. Likes at-large pool so that can get a very high quality group of candidates. Likes that a lot. Ensures a high quality city council—more probable, not guaranteed. Simpler to explain.

JK: felt that important to revisit this issue again in light of comments.

VOTE: 8 plus 4 at large: 7 in favor; 2 opposed.

Preliminary Elections:

JK: motion to keep it the way it is. Issue is in language but no philosophical issue. More than 2 x number of candidates…8-1.

BB: worth thinking about.

City Council Compensation:

BB: Thanks to Karen and Rhanna for taking it all on and fleshing it all out.

KM: Bryan started this with research on salaries in other municipalities. Found that below market. Bring charter up to date with references to salary and benefits…and how will it impact the city financially over time. Wanted to see effects on pensions, healthcare, etc

Consulted people over time and did lots of research.

  1. Newton’s charter does not currently specify that councilors or school committee members be compensated. More charters do, with actual amount set by ordinance. Putting forward that they should be compensated—put in the charter. Similar to language for mayor.

AL: is it a problem to not have it in? Is it common practice? Makes it logical and complete.

BL: is a values statement.

AL: helps with some costs like child care, etc.

BB: important for families to have extra money when they spend so much time on the city.

  1. Health insurance: currently do receive it, but because don’t serve 10 years and earn $5k or over, don’t get benefits. If get 10 years in, more than $5k, get health care benefits at retirement.

JF: does health care continue after service had ended?

RK: when you retire…by state law. If term limit people, might be creating huge liability for city if we create more people in this position.

BB: allowing Councilors to get benefit, but not School Committee members (except those who serve a second round.)

JK: opposed to putting this in the charter since the healthcare situation is changing.

KM: Mayor is able to affect this issue—contribution, etc.

Agreement: to leave it as is, do not exclude for health insurance.

  1. Pensions—informational paragraph. Nothing for the charter. Are creating a huge liability with more city councilors? Cost of term limits? Resources say that this won’t make a huge difference—small amounts for a handful of people. Not putting pension benefits in the charter.
  2. Salaries: City Council is 10% of Mayor’s salary, SC is 5%–this was practice, not ordinance or in the charter. When Mayor’s salary rose in 2006, the others didn’t get a raise. Do we want to put some controls on this? Now the salaries are well below market. Do we want to require regular salary reviews for Mayor, CC, or SC? Or should there be a 2/3 vote required by CC to make the change? Collins Center says that it is not typically done—line about salary reviews.

BL: ratio in other cities between Mayor salary and council salaries. Hard to vote for those…could have regular reviews.

BB: real goal should be to insulate salary process from political process. Would like to see a regular salary review, council gets an up or down vote and no way to raise their salary without that process. Have to set up regular salary review by a commission.

Collins: Not usually a charter issue.

JF: like setting Mayor’s salary and then Council and SC take a %age of that. [discussion of history of mayoral raise in 2006] Need to make sure Mayor’s salary is reasonable to attract excellent candidates.

BB: worry is that if tie in the charter, could find that CC won’t raise Mayor’s salary for political reasons.

JK: regular salary review is a good idea; tying salaries together a good idea; but none of this belongs in the charter. Difficult to separate the political vote—can’t see how to do that in a way that makes sense.

BL: independent panel, etc.

JK: makes sense not to mandate anything in charter; let mayor and council decided what works best for the city at that time.

JF: concern is the city council (too low) and they won’t raise them (not since 1997).

BB: issue of fairness and people being able to run—harder for newer, less established people to run.

BL: some councilors might have stayed longer than should have because of the benefits and the salary; can’t presume to know the economic situation of every elected official. Add in Articles 2 and 4 that they should be compensated and salaries reviewed from time to time.

  1. Can provide for a compensation reset. Looked at comparable cities, have recommendations.

BL:   Only thing can vaguely justify is to do it for the Council. note that it’s been a long time since they got a raise. In letter to mayor and Council, say examined salaries and find our elected officials are way underpaid. Doesn’t support putting in a number

BB: really cautious about working off data—very variable. We do have a blue ribbon recommendation for the city that is still more than currently paid.

AL: go back and think about whole package. Salary issues are a red flag—would not want to complicate total package by putting salary in it.

Collins: common when changing structure of government.

KM: people would start to say what about increased workload?

RK: but we’re not increasing the workload—no research indicated that.

JK: not hearing support for any dollar amounts in the charter. Write something in the memo

  1. Reimbursement for expenses?

Some charters have something about reimbursement of expenses. Can be put in charter…

AL: want better understanding of what people think they should be reimbursed for. What would she ever have applied for reimbursement for?

BB: varies widely.

BL: every year she served, expenses were postage, telephone bills, some travel expenses, enough so that it used my entire salary in the course of the year.

KM: wording from Collins Center basically requires approval—set by ordinance.

JK: are they prohibited from doing that now? Proposal is that SC and CC members can be reimbursed for expenses subject to appropriation.

AL: SC is different from CC.

KM: Framingham has two separate clauses for SC and CC.

RK: doesn’t that happen anyway?

BL: couldn’t do this without putting in the charter?

AL: Schools have more control—they pay for expenses.

RK: bring back language on this issue for discussion.

Meeting on November 30th:

  • Term limits
  • Expenses
  • Finish those, then move to transitions.
  • Look at unfinished issues, items to revisit
  • Anne: look at issue of financial control, brought up by Deb Crossley


December 7th: review of transition provisions

December 14th: review draft of report


Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop

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