Charter Commission Meeting
March 29, 2017
Attending: Josh Krintzman (Chair), Rhanna Kidwell (Vice-Chair), Bryan Barash, Jane Frantz, Howard Haywood, Anne Larner, Brooke Lipsitt. Karen Manning, Chris Steele
Approval of March 15th Minutes: Approved unanimously.
Lisle Baker: three points: current council is fair, efficient and effective; part of its efficiency is that work is divided into committees with 8 members each; no leadership that controls what happens, since it is a large body. Part of value of large council is that deliberate as a large body—therefore maintain system that we have.
Bill Humphrey: composition of council: believe that 100% of council should be voted on by the whole city; it should be instantly clear how the government is set up. Full confidence in city council, though the current proposal is not his first choice. He will support it. Allows someone with a particular emphasis to run on that emphasis (i.e. environment) without running against someone in their ward. Glad to see update to 1970 charter.
Charlie Shapiro: not in favor of proposal. Good to review the way the city is structured. Heard from Chelsea Charter group that votes of charter commission should be unanimous—as these do. But believes the proposal does hard to fundamental ward and village structure, as well as Newton democracy. Taking away right to vote for your own ward alderman. Consolidates power and allows special interests to take over. Proposal reduces the voter power throughout the city—help folks already entrenched and those with tons of money. People who are independent thinkers would have a tough time. Would like to see people read the proposal very carefully—and think about undercutting the ward system. Will do everything possible against it.
Virginia Ewell: opposed to proposal—like the character of villages and not the fact that losing her representative. Should be voted on by people in the village.
Priscilla Leith: upset that chosen to remove ward councilor. Depends on his ward councilor—is his campaign treasurer. Doesn’t take a lot of money, can get signatures easily. Is not possible in the entire city. Valid reasons to retain ward-elected representative: more familiar with traffic, knows business leaders, listen to all who contact them, cost of running by ward is less, having ward councilor to being elected by ward—parallel to state constitution. Would not relish having to come to meeting—thanks for doing this. Feel ward councilors are the most democratic way to run for government. Current proposal allows members to be elected in a cluster, and all from one geographic area. Agree with previous speaker—would be likely to come from higher income areas of the city and have money to run. In Lowell, all elected at-large, and now no diversity on City Council (despite 40% people of color). Fewer people to share work, regret this, will probably vote no.
Jay Walter: favor of 12 person council; accomplishes a number of things: accommodates ward representation while keep citywide accountability; simplifies the ballot process—too complicated now; streamline government—expedite legislative agendas and permitting process. Applaud commission for thoughtful, thorough deliberations.
Liz Hiser: Thanks to all for service and leadership. Composition of city council—you got it right. Data used to make decision—qualitative experiences and information shared. Considered historical data about elections; testimony from officials, looking at outcomes all over MA, learning from the Model City charter, testimony from other communities, created infinite opportunities for Newton residents to share views. Discussions were robust, especially around main decision points. Even as some are encouraging to go back—trust your decisions, trust your reasoning, keep all reasons and arguments, hope still feel that draft charter is the council structure that would yield greater citizen engagements, understanding and participation.
Nancy Zollers: You got it right. Grateful for how got there with data and deliberations, concerned about Emily Norton’s mailing—thought was from the city. Think proposal is real democracy—in introduction to documents. Voters have more influence over the actions of the council when they can vote for all councilors; create more effective response of government. Will sign up for and work hard for passage—must be scary that won’t pass. Not a good reason to go back
Sue Flicop (for LWVN): reiteration of LWV process and that the League has not voted yet on whether to support the charter proposal or not.
Draft of New Charter: Revisiting the following topics:
JF: two main reasons—1. hearing serious and growing concerns about at-large councilors; hear underlying message is that people don’t trust the at-large pool. Considers trust in proposal to be central to mission. Haven’t taken this into account. When hear possibilities that don’t relate to one another, is concerned about trust. Believe that come to the right number of councilors, but concerns about the composition. People seem to prefer district model. 2. Maintaining geographic requirement does not prevent any resident from going to any councilor and speaking about a particular topic. But removing the geographic representation could mean that part of the city do not have equal representation for long periods of time. Proposing that revisit the composition of the council—specifically to consider the district model.
JF: Motion to adopt the district model where 4 councilors are divided up equally from across the city so that each district is equally represented—voted on at-large. BL seconded it.
BL: agnostic on the issue—seconded it because it is an important discussion to have. All have had more conversations with members of the public in the last two weeks than in the last 1.5 years. Substantial amount of input from people who really prefer retaining the ward model. Can say that those people are energized because of Emily Norton’s flyer, or for comments from Lisle Baker, or because some ward councilor has been responsive. More people speaking on behalf of retaining ward councilors than for any other combination. Naïve not to consider this a potential problem for passing a charter that commission approved. Not heard any member of commission in favor of retaining ward councilors as they exist today. No doubt that will continue to support all councilors elected at large…motion addresses the feeling that someone is represented locally. Because of the nature of the public communication, it is all one way. They hear from people, but haven’t had the back-and-forth communication. Therefore need to make the best judgement about whether that is a meaningful change—make more people comfortable with proposal put forward than the 4 totally at large. One other factor that makes the district model appealing—provides all head-to-head races, which are desirable (to Brooke).
BB: Have been happy with process and work done, have a really good produce. Have heard positive, negative feedback. View this as an opportunity to make sure have the exact right mix and language so that this is the best proposal can be. Open to taking a look at this…found himself trying to take a fresh look at this. Thinking about the substantive issues (not about election). There are these head-to-head matches—then everyone elected gets 50%+1—majority of city approves of the work of everyone on the council. Will not have minority viewpoint that can create problems in the workings of the government. Leading toward voting for district model.
RK: had unanimous agreement that entire city council should be elected on at-large. Had two major categories of objections: one to keep 24 and one to keep ward councilors (24%). They want someone accountable only to their area and want someone to run in their ward. District councilors do not satisfy that group of people. If want to compromise to pick up votes, need to have district people elected only within the district. Seems to be no appetite for it—this isn’t a compromise that anyone wants. Concern about making changes—have 1 month left to get final report revised. Have huge concerns about trying to make huge changes—no time to get feedback on what districts would look like, how to make them.
CS: proposal is very similar to one discussed about 3 months ago. Argued then in favor on the grounds that is was making sure each race was made up of one-to-one, so have clear choice. Legislator would have clear mandate. But…agree with Rhanna with regards to being so late in process. Have concerns with making such a substantial change—seen a pretty large of people who feel comfortable with proposal. Not sure how would vote on proposal.
AL: speak to the pool—given thought as feedback and fears are heard. Did research into practice, reality with our contests and with the idea of what you get, what the value of one-on-one contests—exclusive ones. If look back on data of our current ward councilors for past 30 years, once elected, very few challenged. If go back 30 years, 5, 6 or 7 are not challenged. May have a one-on-one to start, but then have seat until you want to stop. With a pool, very high chance that there will be a challenge. Anne ran at large, so doesn’t fear one-on-one contests, but isn’t the only way to do it. Doesn’t mean someone is “chicken.” Some contests have been pretty personally destructive, so some people might not want to the put the effort in. Have basic dilemma about what is democracy—some feel it is tied to very local representation. But hear from proponents, they see democracy as being able to vote for everyone in the city. No right or wrong, just different views. Looked at demographic info from census and how differences lay about ethnicity, income, etc. Diversity if scattered—not all in one area. There are some areas, but spread out. Some interest groups might do better to run at-large in a pool than contained. Having served for 16 years, voted at large but represent a ward, personally feel comfortable that people who live in the district represent them. Not just the ward councilor, but all councilors. At this point, is prepared to stay with what have. Doesn’t see what gain by changing here—minor change that doesn’t make a great deal of people feel more comfortable. Not a major impact.
KM: Data has been helpful, but wants to speak from the heart. Driven by instinct, first felt enthusiasm after listening to the panels and thinking about the School Committee and how balanced it seems. Thinking about how different it would be if not elected at-large—would think only about their schools. Understand that people have an attachment to their ward councilors. But the high quality of newcomers would be great—no one can picture how it would actually unfold. About slates—it is always possible, isn’t a concern among communities that have at-large pools. Charter Commission would have suffered to have a geographic requirement. Also will not have time to get response or feedback, though may get some enthusiasm, will lose others. Some will never approve—don’t think that district at-large will satisfy those who treasure their ward councilors.
JF: voting for not-the-best, but pool will be the four top vote getters. No guarantee that get the best. Spent 20 years north of the pike and know the sense of disenfranchisement—it is a reality. E.g. PTOs pay for their own playground, technology in schools, each school gets same resources despite the needs. As a perception, a school on the north side of the city that went without heat for three days in January. Perception—people believe that this wouldn’t have happened in other parts of the city. They want to know that they will have same representation in the city on the council—fear they will lose it and have nowhere to turn. Councilor from Worcester admitted that at-large councilors came from wealthier parts of the city. Concept of equal representation is important, diversity in city—economic diversity that is localized. Do risk losing representation if we have a pool. Concern to Jane.
HH: currently have a ward aldermen, if they can turn to that person, then conditions she talked about should not have happened. Why keep what is not working? Too far into process, can’t change now. Example: how decided what districts are—still divide the city. Myth of ward aldermen and how much each ward values each alderman—7 of 8 seats were uncontested in last election. In Ward 2, 731 votes cast for ward alderman-851 blanks. If really love ward alderman, why blanks win? In ward 3: 651 v. 815 blanks. Ward 4: won by a few hundred votes, two at-large people ran unopposed and got more votes than ward alderman within their ward. In Ward 2—challenging race in at-large race, 3 out of the 4 candidates got more votes than ward aldermen. Think that people who are elected as councilors no matter where they live have an obligation to look out for the benefit of the entire city—then don’t get elected again. Even the people that did vote, did not put their ward alderman as their main priority in their ward. In every race, if ward aldermen is the most critical to democracy in city, would expect them to be the top vote getter—and they are not. Ward 7—565 votes, 329 blanks—myth that ward alderman provides better representation. When HH has a concern, go to the alderman that best meets his needs. Respect that no matter where they live, they should respond to that concern. Agrees with Karen about how they were elected—people voted because they thought that they had the best interests of the city in their hearts—not because of where they live. Some of the comments have been harmful, divisive, fearmongering. It’s not where they live that matters, but how they work and if they care for the needs of the whole city. We are not 13 villages—we are one city with 13 villages. If we put the interest of the villages before the city, we are doing a disservice. Is personally an outlier on every committee that he serves on—but what matters to people is what he does on the committee. Data doesn’t show that people value ward aldermen more than others.
JF: agree with what he said—data about ward aldermen does not hold up. Have been told that running for Ward Alderman is easier to do, but 87% of ward aldermen ran unopposed. 62% of at large ran unopposed. By no means talking about ward aldermen—talking about a part of the city that doesn’t feel embraced by the rest of us—not as wealthy as those in other parts of the city. Alienating to many parts of the city.
JK: State laws lays out 4 dates—2 public hearings—so that can respond to public. Doesn’t think it’s too late. Feedback in three categories: one to keep ward councilors. Does think this proposal gives each ward one councilors (just like school committee is now). #2. Seats at large makes it difficult to challenge—looked back at data, 2-1 rate, chose to run at-large. People are more inclined to run at-large. Data doesn’t show someone less inclined to run at-large. #3. Fear of at-large pool—need to preserve geographic diversity. Proposal accomplish this. Feels an obligation to hear what citizens want—think Jane’s proposal does that. Extent that we can accommodate that concern but keep people elected at-large, strengthens proposal since we listen to voices. Will support it.
RK: both come from the same place—primary concern is to make people who feel marginalized feel better represented. All repeated that job shouldn’t look any different whether elected by ward or by city. Same would apply to at-large structure. Possible to have one at-large, one by-district, no challengers in years, and so doesn’t need to be responsive. Intent was to have one person per ward, and then 4 people who are challenged every election to retain seat. Think the idea of having 4 from same neighborhood/ward, optics issue. If 7/8 of the people feel they aren’t being represented (those not in the ward) then they will be removed. Thinks at risk trying to make major changes—recommend changes to the process, so hearing is held later.
KM: district proposal is pretty complicated—how divided up wards into 4 groups? If think that people wouldn’t want to weigh in that, you’re wrong. Would need a lot of time—we didn’t do that because we didn’t want an extra layer of government—how would city staff be impacted by change? Is not a small thing.
BL: I know that this is a very strange timetable, but it is the one we have. Would be irresponsible to say that stay in same issue due to time—why have a public hearing? Still have a month. Is willing to do whatever work it takes to complete final report. Don’t doubt that up to the task. Do continue to feel that there are perceptions of group think in the four at-large councilors—doesn’t think it’s a serious problem. Have the opportunity to make a modification and not a major change—consider going toward all head-to-head races. Doesn’t think that it is better to have a group of four that is challenged more often.
AL: speak to pool model—if the argument is compelling, then should make the change. Not held back by that. What does affect her is that the product that have is the better product—don’t believe that see the issue will pools in other communities turning over all the time—constant challenging, incumbency still rules, but being challenged keeps people accountable.
RK: Agree with Brooke, if there were compelling feedback, should make change. Only strong compelling opposition is that people want a person who only answers to their neighborhood and who does not have to run citywide. District model where elected by whole city doesn’t change any of this—doesn’t answer the negative feedback that they’ve gotten. Knew there were tradeoffs with head-to-head match ups. Do get to vote for the 4 best people, not limited in choice by geography.
BB: made him confident that will make a good decision. Thinking about how charter commission were elected—if just top vote getter in each ward, would have lost out on two women and one person of color—anecdotally, this is interesting.
JF: remind that motion is district at large. Not by district. On Commission, no one elected by close to 50% of vote—elected by plurality, but not majority. This is a concern. Draws analogy to Maine governor—worries about people who get less than 50% of vote making decisions for whole city.
JK: notion of drawing districts—should talk City Council to draw districts. Not appropriate for charter to lay it out.
AL: most appropriate for election Commission to draw the districts.
RK: All agreed on the 8 at-large by ward. Next question is how best supplement that—by adding at-large pool add something different—diversity, different way of being elected, not geographically restricted. If add 4 representatives by district, only have the same of what we currently have—haven’t added anything different, nothing new to add to the pool. Don’t need 12 of exactly the same thing—have different characteristics. Only two cities who don’t have any councilors elected at large, without geographic representation—popular for a reason.
JF: One of major concerns is that end up with less diversity. Doesn’t’ see why an at-large pool would add more diversity. No idea where people …
RK: Not talking about ethnic diversity.
JF: significant move from ward councilor configuration because district councilors would be voted on at-large. Extremely close to what have now.
Vote on motion (5-4): in favor: Josh, Bryan, jane, Brooke, Chris Against: Rhanna, Larner, Howard, Karen
Brooke: what do we need to do?
Consultant: a charter would put it in the transition, need a plan for the first election.
RK: In Worcester charter, set parameters but leave it up to the Election Commission. Would file a minority opinion if allow the City Council to draw their own boundaries.
BL: Boundaries are currently drawn up by the City Council. Happy have the Election Commission do it, but if proposing something different from current practice, need to spel it out.
AL: like having a neutral party doing this—witnessed some of the redrawing of ward lines and doesn’t like the way it’s been done.
BL: should it be the job of the election commission to draw ward lines?
JK: legal requirements that ward lines drawn as equal as possible.
BL: question is who draws them?
JK: should be the same people who draw both sets of lines.
AL: worth putting both in hands of election commission.
BL: motion that ward and districts be drawn by election commission. Bryan seconds.
Vote: 7 in favor, Howard opposed, Karen abstaining
Bryan: term limits are a bit far away from each other—8 for SC and 16 for CC. In the end, the gap is very large, would like to try to get them closer together. Should be 12-12. Doesn’t have a particular proposal—discuss and see if there is a will to move them closer together.
AL: remind folks that the last time discussed this, it took several hours and many votes to get someplace. If want to open it up, talk it through and get a sense of people’s limits.
RK: throw out scenarios of three limits—no pros and cons—heard them all.
BB: Motion 8-12-12 (seconded by BL)
RK: let’s talk first about possible options.
BB: withdraw motion.
JK: other sentiments
AL: 12-12-16 or 10-12-16 (SC-Mayor-CC)
BL: willing to go along with either of Anne’s ideas.
JF: at 10 years you become vested—what are the financial implications of vesting people—answer is that not doing anything about compensation.
JK: in every case, Mayor is 12 years. Runs through rest of options.
Series of votes on each…most support for keeping the current proposal.
PROHIBITION ON HOLDING COMPENSATED OFFICE (from Attorney General’s office): issue of whether an employee who leaves their job to become an elected official is entitled to get their job back after leaving office (if the job is not longer available). General agreement is that they are not entitled to another job
REMOVAL OF CLERK: language is outdated—use of ballot suggests secret ballot—legal department preferred use of roll call.
CHARTER OBJECTION: should there be language that a charter objection could not be put in place if the item would otherwise go into effect by course of law (going past a deadline.) Added language that City Council can modify application of charter objection procedure.
CITY EMPLOYEES ON BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS: [Not clear what changed here—something about city employees serving on Board and Commissions.]
SCHOOL BUILDING REVIEW COMMITTEE: whether or not to establish a design review committee—idea is to get School Committee voting membership for those that are formed. Reference that ordinance about design review would include School Committee voting representation, as needed.—tabled for more discussion.
SPECIAL ELECTIONS BLACKOUT: support for a blackout period for special elections in July and August? If support, will look at appropriate language.
CITIZEN/RESIDENT: language around citizenry v. language around resident. Propose change preamble to change “citizenry” to “populace”; in other situations Bryan identified, remove “citizen.”
CONFLICT OF INTEREST: have discussed at length, but Legal Department expressed concern that state law covers all municipal employees—not in favor of adding more provision that might someday be in conflict and with no way to enforce. Attorney General did not raise any red flags about this. Motion to remove section 11-2. Motion fails.
LIABILITY: feedback was that this was not needed and was best handled under statute. People would go to state law and not to the city charter. Consensus is to do nothing.
INITIAL DISCUSSION OF DISTRICTS: Is this something that should be in the charter? Some requirements (like contiguous wards?) Let the Election Commission decide? Motion that language describes districts made up of 2 contiguous wards decided by the Election Commission. Discussion: what about two districts next two each other when one has a much higher voter turnout? That isn’t fair….
HH: not ready to vote—in a matter of a few hours, changed everything. Doesn’t feel comfortable deciding on this tonight. Time is an issue….if think just rush through important issue…he’s close to saying he doesn’t support charter. Nothing he’s heard tonight has convinced him that the district model is the way to go.
JF: need to add in the charter have 8 wards, 4 districts and leave to others to decide.
BB: Not vote on final proposal tonight.
RK: Also doesn’t think should vote tonight.
BL: withdraw motion and will introduce at next meeting.
Ann Dorfman: still confused about committees after hearing discussion. Against having employees on committees.
Sallee Lipshutz: haven’t improved the charter proposal with the change to district councilors. Still won’t vote for it.
Jen Kohl: not the right decision—reconsider?
Frieda Dweck: in discussion of technology equity, lots of divisive discussion; the district model will do the same. PTOs have had this discussion for years and found it divisive.
Sue Flicop: CC didn’t follow it’s usual process during the evening. Took an official vote without letting the public know in advance the vote was going to happen to change to the district model; Also took the vote without hearing all the public comment. [NOTE: it was almost 11:00 that the meeting ended, and so very few people stayed to comment at the end of the meeting.]
Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop.