LWVN Member Meeting on the Newton City Charter Commission Proposal: Sunday, April 30th, from 2 pm to 3:30 pm. at the Waban Library Center, 1608 Beacon Street, Waban: At this meeting, members will discuss the proposal from the Newton City Charter Commission and decide whether–as an organization–LWVN will support the proposal or not. We’d love your RSVP at email@example.com so we can be sure we have a quorum to vote!
Charter Commission Meeting
April 12, 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 Minutes (March 29th): Approved unanimously.
Jennifer Huntington: Thanks to Charter Commission for their hard work and active listening. Voting yes for a new charter: smaller city council will increase accountability and efficiency. Believe in term limits—increase interest in running for office.
Nancy Tenor: Thanks for all your hard work. Section of proposal that will hurt Newton is the one that removes local ward representation from the City Council. Intrigued by idea of villages—varied and distinct. Most of her neighbors are against removing local representation—people know their representative and are worried that they will lose that connection. Candidates will also not be able to hear the issues that concern their constituencies—opportunities will be rare to have small events. Only those with high disposable incomes will be able to afford to run—proposal limits representation and weakens democracy. Many at the state level started at the local level—we should be encouraging this. When candidates have to cover the whole city they will not be able to understand the local concerns.
Kathleen Hobson: about process: she needs to vote on a charter that is a result of a process that she can count on and be proud of. Up until March 29th, it was just that. Then, all of a sudden, the process broke down and moved to a track motivated by fear about the passage of the proposal. Can’t just hand off creating districts to the Election Commission—not enough time to do a proper job. Can go back to the model that they reaffirmed 3 times very strongly and that she was proud of. It would be hard to sell the new version.
Jack Pryor: Thanks for your service. Read info on all 56 communities that use city councils in MA. Newton is an outlier with 24, proposal is an outlier as well. 84% use ward-elected representative of what they do. 14% are at large. As you get smaller, get more direct representation. Vast majority are mostly ward-elected when there are both. Newton with 9 other communities that are all elected at-large. Only 2.6% of communities in MA are 100% at-large. Nationwide, some are challenged due to civil rights.
Sallee Lipshutz: Thanks for all your hard work. Housekeeping—maps of districts are difficult to discern various districts. Secondly, would like her letter sent this week to be on the record. The conclusion is that they still have time to have 8 at-large and 8 ward councilors—voters would breathe a sigh of relief and it would pass with a high acceptance rate.
Lois Levin: listened to some of tapes of meetings that she missed, including the last one. Sudden revision of unanimous decisions. Issues with the recording. Document from Anne makes clear that the decision requires a lot of work—can’t just snap your fingers. Implementing wouldn’t be abrupt, though the change was. Doesn’t understand how the ward alderman represents people better than others. Most are responsive and receptive—calls city for potholes, but if there is an issue wants to talk to someone who is responsive. Doesn’t matter if they live 2 blocks from her or 20 blocks. Notion that a neighbor represents you better is irrational. Does not understand why abruptly reconsidered all the hard work they did; chaotic reaction to it. One of the most important things is to reduce the size of the Board, but getting rid of ward aldermen was a piece of it. Doesn’t need ward aldermen to feel represented—is a unified city with common goals.
Deb Crossley: favor the city charter—spoke a couple of times. Terrific work that they did. Surprised by 5-4 vote that represents a change of mind. Not an inherent difference in responsiveness between ward and at-large councilors—it is the person who determines that. Will vote for the charter anyway since it reduces the size of the council—help to focus their energies, work better together (very difficult for large council to pay as good attention to each issue and be ready to vote in a timely fashion). If really believed as they did a number of weeks ago, then that is what should put forward. Put forward the best model for the city. However if honestly believe that district model is the best, need to double the meetings between now and the end to draw boundaries—too much incentive for shenanigans. Not meaning anything derogatory, but tension that happens about whether or not will be included in the next elections. Not appropriate for the Election Commission to do this.
Draft of New Charter:
BB: document to help kick off discussion about how to look at districts. Look at advantages of district model v. the other model. Advantages of district model—head-to-head races, 100% geographic diversity, majority rule, every race 50+1%. Pool: More potential candidates to choose from, no head-to-head races for those who aren’t willing to run against neighbor, no geographic limitations, allow minority voices (possibly less than 50%).
If going to go to districts, need to figure out how to write that into the charter. Aspects to decide:
Who is going to decide what districts are? In the charter (permanently), temporarily in a transition document, or delegate to city council or election commission. Point raised in memos and by consultants that Election Commission might not be the appropriate body and possibly City Council would have an up-or-down vote on it.
BB: King Solomon question—limited time frame to finish this process. Really going to have to deal with asking people to vote on charter without knowing exactly how council would be elected. Should politics be a consideration? City Council does have control over redistricting process; had thought to give this to the Election Commission. Strong value to independent redistricting—large topic to take on in time we have left. Consultants said that districts and ward should probably be drawn by the same body. Districts in other communities—examples of all ways that can be drawn. Not breaking new ground, but there are options to consider.
AL: struggle with districts in Newton are for a different purpose in other districts. They are for voting purposes for representative—ours is to ensure that councilors are geographically dispersed and not concentrated in one neighborhood (as opposed to one person, one vote.) Do they tend to disperse more or is there a concentration? Now eight wards—natural way to scatter; when have 4—come together at one point. Will there be concentrations in one place. Introduced idea of Election Commission at last meeting—was trying to think creatively because facing a deadline—however, having conversations with law department and doing research—thought about how an Election Commission is built, who peoples it, and what its purpose is—districts are meant to be non-partisan, so why have Dems and Reps deciding it? Would like to see a reconsideration of putting this to the Election Commission. Is it best to put aside and discuss or have a vote on it first?
JK: look at districts, came up with three options; would be comprised of two contiguous wards, tried to even voting numbers, not bizarrely shaped; agree that put in something in transition section about what the districts would be.
BB: most charters that do a preliminary district, typically say that this will be the starting point for the first election, and then a chance to change them.
JF: question on 2020 Census—when would have the info for ward redistricting? [Discussion that led to conclusion for 2021 election. Would this be for one election? Who then makes the decision?]
BB: feels like having temporary model leaves a safety valve. Seems like district is a model going forward—if the districts need to be changed, create another way to do it besides changing the charter.
JK: need to discuss is creating temporary or permanent districts.
BL: seems that there is no logical option to making a temporary assignment so that people can understand in more than words what this means. Have the obligation to try to make that clear in transition section. Challenge is not do we put in temporary districts, but do we assign the wards to districts in the body of the charter or make a temporary assignment with instructions that need to be revisited after every census? If felt that could get the delineation correctly, then put in the charter. Potential for political mischief by redrawing the district lines every 10 years—in reality only happens if not working. Who gets the job? Not as disturbed by composition of Election Commission—they are relatively independent. But is the question about whether the EC can even take that, or if required to have the City Council draw ward/council lines.
Collins Center: if take the premise that all elections are province of the state, and precinct is building block for all ward/districts, always Marilyn’s understanding that the clerk brought a proposal to the council based on the census. In Newton, the council does some of it.
BL: don’t think it matters who makes the proposal—decision is made by City Council.
Collins Center: have different option—could create a commission to examine the issue of how to create districts and determine its membership—for the initial election.
BL: after initial time, is there a requirement for City Council to do this? Can we override it?
CC: NO—election law is state law and it is uniform. Can’t override in charter.
BL: therefore doesn’t matter who makes recommendation—vote ultimately has to be taken by city council.
AL: pretty sure that Ouida said that Cambridge had used a home-rule petition to have someone besides City Council set the district lines.
BB: home-rule is a way to ask the state to override state law. Complexity of doing this—independent redistricting is a much larger process, not in the next three weeks.
AL: in her opinion, seems sensible to her to proceed with Charter Commission drawing first districts in charter—don’t do it unless have general public hearing and time for feedback on this. Then would take the easy route and put any further responsibility past the first election with the City Council, and think about putting in parameters. City Council has had issues in past with extending courtesies—must better to have body that is elected by them with public hearings that people attend. Election Commission sits in a small room, has a hard time to pass minutes, doesn’t always take audio of meetings, etc.—doesn’t have gravitas that the council has. Is a big issue to people—if go this route, have to do it so that support the ability of the public to see the sausage being made, to comment on it and to find records of meeting.
KM: Agree with Anne, especially about public hearing. Feels that significantly downplayed—not a minor change, is something the city hasn’t seen before. If info sits out there for a week or two, how know that getting all the feedback. Have had info out there for 1.5 years…doesn’t think a hearing in this short term is responsible or enough—better than nothing.
HH: hears that we should go to districts but doesn’t know how. Have council members that say should not be in the hands of the council; EC is not qualified or can do it legally—selected based on political party. Haven’t had a public hearing on this topic—haven’t heard anything that there is overwhelming support for districts. Sees still support for keeping ward aldermen. No argument for why go to districts. Arguments for districts do not apply to Newton. What are we trying to do here.
JF: supported this idea for months—begun to heard from many people outside the meeting that they were uncomfortable with model that CC had come up with. Last 3-4 months, more and more people were approaching her that the at-large pool was problematic. Head-to-head races, concentration in one part of the city. Many people approached her recently and said that they were relieved.
KM: in the abstract, understand that JF prefer the proposal. Truth is only 3% supported it. Would they support it if they knew the roadblocks—EC or City Council? How divide up districts? No perfect composition—so many models. Precedent is important—if so many MA communities support at-large pools, it must work. Research did not turn up any alarm or reservations by those that CC spoke to. Abstract v. reality is different.
CS: like Jane, was interested in district model, especially head-to-head races. Concept of trying to do something in a rush—has broken things that way. Feels like going down that road. Have to be able to establish districts as least for the first round—don’t have time. Don’t have enough dialogue or time for enough dialogue to figure out who will draw districts in the future. Also drawn people through long process so far, but in past 14 days made a significant fundamental change—would have preferred to have come to this earlier. But not so opposed to concept of pool that to go in the district direction is better than having had the process so far.
BL: always been iconoclasts in Newton—size of city council, use of area councils, etc. Chris raises central question—she likes districts—reviewed arguments and read everything—as talked to people, am more and more comfortable with district model. Issue about whether we are in a position to make rational and supportable decisions about first iteration of districts. If CC wanted to, is there enough time in 3 weeks to have a public hearing and to then have enough time to deliberate on what hear that day/evening and finish the report. If answer is no, then made the decision. Wouldn’t mind meeting on weekend or several nights in a row. Is this feasible?
BB: hear concerns and agree that will have to schedule significant time to take this on. Going into a holiday weekend, then school vacation, so sets back public hearing as a start. Limiting factor, could make time to do it, but would have to happen in 1.5-2 weeks.
JF: short-term questions, and talking a charter than would at least last 50 years. Willing to put in the work. Focus on making the right decision.
[Discussion on deadline—May 4th was the agreed upon date.]
HH: every time CC meets, people get up and talk about the process—thanks for working so hard, for being so transparent, and how consistent. Up until 2 weeks ago—can’t say that wasn’t a change. It was a significant change—put the citizens in that rush mode. HH thinks this is unfair—can public handle that many more meetings because CC broke from regular process and added a complicated issue without giving due process. Public had to wait until 10:30 at night to make comments. How long has it taken to do lesser things? Can’t get this done.
BB: hear the argument that is a break from regular process—this is the end of the process. Supposed to reflect on preliminary repot—process set out by state law. Unfortunately, time line is compressed, but are following process.
JF: agree with Bryan. Had a public hearing, responded to it. Got input from all around—don’t have consensus on any one issue.
KM: need to go by email receive and comments we hear—only thing we have in common. Have no idea of context of private conversations—not solid data. Gotten concrete feedback that the district model doesn’t satisfy those unhappy with original proposal. Timeline—important. Just because some influential people support the district model, they don’t understand all that is involved and haven’t done the research.
BL: hear what Karen says, sees Rhanna’s data. Are representatives—don’t need to count comments, etc. Know that the total number of people who have heard from are a small fraction of the voters. Up to CC to put together to the best of their judgement. This is the first time there is serious tension among members of the commission. Wants to put the question again about time…are they willing to join Brooke and sit down and have a public hearing? Fact that is vacation week—doesn’t affect many people who have been here.
AL: with Brooke in spirit, but there is a practical consideration. Would not want to have a vote that wouldn’t have all of us there. Have to be respectful of each other who might not be available.
RK: (asks people with kids in public schools to raise hands) Feel uncomfortable to do anything during school vacation week. Didn’t count comments to put finger in the air—was about the idea about the feedback that have gotten—if going to talk about responding, need to agree to what it is. Haven’t been privy to communication about district model.
BB: agree about school vacation; is it reasonable to expect public to go to so many meetings in a row if want to follow process. Fact that willing to address some of the concerns without giving exactly the model some want does not mean that not responding to feedback.
JK: need to decide who decides districts (if keep with districts). Felt that the district model wasn’t that radical—taking model that we like (at-large with residency requirements) and apply it to the remaining 4 councilors. Felt it was a minor tweak—since this is the way it’s been done.
Sense of body about whether continue with districts—question by AL about process moving forward: if continue with districts, have public hearing and then schedule more meetings. HH—need to figure out details first—see what look like and then vote. JK: city council draw districts, CC draw initial ones for first election. HH: how do we know that the CC should draw the districts? Should draw out the whole program and then vote…need to know where going before decide. Disagree on how got to this place without process during last meeting.
Yes to district model (Franz, Barash, Lipsitt, Krintzman)
BB: vote should be whether to proceed regardless of preference.
RK: let’s finish the discussion about proceed. Do we have the time to finish this discussion. Don’t think should meet on weekends—asking too much of public. Counts seven days without weekends and school vacation before proposal is due. Need vetted proposal, straw vote, public hearing, then vote and finalize the report. Short amount of time.
JF: go back to point that making a charter that will last for 50 years.
RK: because will last for 50 years, would like to be responsible and make sure it won’t blow up on them. Have had to walk back things when realized won’t work—now don’t have time.
JK: will find space every week of April 24th. Need a motion on whether to go forward.
BL: schedule meetings during week of April 24th to give this proposal a full hearing.
Motion: continue vetting district model and meet as many times as it takes the week of April 24th including scheduling public hearing.
[Discussion: was this a straw vote?]
KM: would have been helpful for people to have the info they have now on district model. About public hearing—realize how much work it takes to get together a transcript of a hearing? Karen does it—it’s political, people are reading those minutes. They can take 7-10 days, especially if there is a job or family involved. Will take a while, then maybe 3-4 days or a week to review them, respond, think about it. Not responsible.
BL: thanks to Karen for accurately recording all this material—overwhelmed with the work that they do. Doesn’t disagree with Howard about the vote last time. But they are having a discussion now. Not afraid to move forward with deliberation. Are they willing and able to do the work? Written record is extremely important—especially when the public makes its decision.
AL: agree that need to move forward. Do need to acknowledge who thought the vote was a final vote—need to deal with this perception. If have some tight meetings, need outside help—no fair to have Karen do it.
RK: BL made a comment that shouldn’t stop arbitrarily—feel that this was started arbitrarily. People have heard some comments, but no consensus on model or on time left. Not a legislative body—simple majority is not a win. What matter is is they have the time to do this responsibly and if can get a consensus around this model.
JF: point out number of times visited term limits, three (sic) meetings on area councils, extreme amount of time on other things. If not have consensus on district model, don’t have it on at-large model. Mistake to assume that if one model is defeated, then the other would be OK. That vote no longer exists. Regrets didn’t examine other models. No matter what, will have a split vote.
HH: recall vote was 7-2 in favor of the at-large model. Doesn’t sound very split. Talking about whether we go forward—got away from process that has hurt them within the group and with the public. Is this motion another straw vote? Got opinions from City Clerk and Law Office—haven’t addressed their comments on how complicated they are. So we’re saying we don’t need their opinion and that we should just go ahead.
JK: read the memos and if there are two ward together, it will be fine.
JF: hold Ouida in the highest regard. Gets three paragraph answers when expected only 1 line—may give information that is not necessary because she is careful.
[JK asks David Olson if he has anything else to add.]
RK: two models with no consensus. Then go forward with the model that is complete and has been vetted—not try to rush around with something that is very complete and political. Could lose support from people—not reason not to proceed if this is something that believe in. Uncomfortable with the rush.
AL: feels torn. Has been on both winning and losing sides—has been her policy to graciously lose when lose and work with the majority opinion. Not sure whether it is possible to move forward isn’t clear yet. Not clear how much time other pieces are going to take—is it helpful to vote yes and possible waste time. It’s a real dilemna. Very much want a package that is sellable to the community that reduces the size of the council and has a composition that makes some sense. One on the table now is no her first choice, but the issue now is if can do a good job for all the other pieces. Would like to have a better sense of what is left.
VOTE on motion: 5-4 Failed.
New motion: (BL) move that revert to previous preliminary draft
BB: obvious that people feel uncomfortable going forward with last vote.
JF: hope that includes respecting a no vote.
VOTE 8-1. Revert to at-large pool and the district drawn body.
Prohibition on holding compensated officer for 1-year post:
Marilyn spoke with AG’s office about what needs to be changed. Need to add something about when this is available—at conclusion of service.
BL: motion in Section 2-4a: “service” is better than term. Insert “within one year of service.” Instead of “at one year of service.” Motion APPROVED.
[Discussion about whether this is for the same position or a new position.]
City Employees on Boards and Commissions:
BB: voted to make a change…doesn’t recall an additional change needed.
School Building Review Committee:
AL: recommend in Section 4-4, delete the second sentence “upon written communications…” Multilayers of committees depending on circumstances—working with Ouida, felt it was best to keep it simple. Try to make sure that whenever a school building program comes up (either fully self-financed or with MSBA) there will always be a voting place for a SC member on the committee dealing with that. Easiest way is to add to section 11-7 to make sure that Design Review Committee will have a voting slot for a SC member.
Special Elections Blackout: hold for next time
BB: debated months ago, no conclusion and decided to leave it out. Discussion occurred before the most recent presidential election—might change some people’s opinion in light of personal conflicts, etc. Letter of the law might not be enough to capture behavior that might lead to a recall. Is there a willingness to talk about a recall again? No need to significantly deviate from available language. Lots of kinds of conflicts that might lead to questioning of person in office.
RK: have been national stories of that nature—supported this when brought up before. The bar is set so high in terms of signatures—couldn’t be done frivolously. Very ugly chapter if ever had to recall Mayor, but would result from ugliness that would be there and would be a national news story—is a nice safeguard that would hopefully never be used.
JF: turmoil from some situations even if they don’t lead to recall.
Motion (BB): include recall provision.
BL: offer a friendly amendment that discuss recall provision for the Mayor. Terms for SC and CC are so brief that recalling someone and hold a special election is terrifying. BB—accepted.
VOTE: 6-2-1. Motion PASSED.
Further articulate proposal? BL: came up with language with the Collins Center to come up with language.
Multiple Member Body Quorum:
Marilyn: Section 11-12d. issue is that “unless otherwise required by law” should be moved after “multiple member body.”
Ouida raised two concerns about Article 3-10:
- Scheduling a special election at the next city council meeting. Suggestion that it be introduced in recognition of the City Council process. Can’t deliberate and vote on same date.
- Special election in summer—want exception that instead of July or August, could be held at a late time.
BL: about #2, could change to ‘earliest practical date’ to avoid slippage. Personally doesn’t worry about having an election over the summer. Was a concern when Mayor Mann died. Can be modified the setting of the date, but intent should be clear that it should be the earliest possible time.
BB: Blackout dates should be a “may” instead of a “shall.”
KM: wants to take a little more time, but will go with the flow. Would prefer to have time to ask questions.
Final Report: some changes, can use preliminary report. Hold week of April 24th to schedule another meeting. Are scheduled for Wednesday, April 26th.
AL: did research this week on registered voters by party. There are 30 parties that people can register for…one that three registered voters in Newton called the Pizza Party.
Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop.
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.
Newton Charter Commission Public Hearing
March 15, 2017
Attending: Josh Krintzman (Chair), Rhanna Kidwell (Vice-Chair), Bryan Barash, Jane Frantz, Howard Haywood, Anne Larner, Brooke Lipsitt, Karen Manning, Chris Steele
Meeting Minutes: Minutes from the past two meetings were approved with minor corrections.
Marc Laredo: appreciate the hard work the charter commission put into the project; can go either way on term limits, not quarrel on size of the city council, but fundamental objection is on how chosen to elect members of city council in new form. One member at large for 8 wards, similar to what have now, wonderful that voter can choose up or down for Ward 7 at-large seat. Vote for a candidate…but problem with other 4 seats. Rather than having a direct, simple, accessible model, have a different model. Not aware of single other city or town in MA that has same system. Like current ward representation because: accessibility for average voter—someone represents him or her and whom they can contact; running for office—harder to run citywide—different types of elections, more expensive at large; accountability—are not voting one person up or down, instead of slate of people. Urge simple change—go to district model combining wards and let people run from a district. Accomplish same thing.
Jack Pryor: advocating for retaining ward councilors; current proposal makes public office less accessible with all at-large, citywide; Scott Lennon started as a ward councilor; dilute accountability of councilors—to have th whole city aware of what each councilor is doing is difficult; want board to represent diverse interests of city; want people to be challenged head-to-head; allows a significant amount of imbalance in terms of geographic representation—one ward could have 5 people and the rest have 1. Who knows who will dominate that. Want to retain direct representation. Feels like determined by the issues of the day…hope they will reconsider and have time to change/revise.
Ed Craddock: wasn’t happy that had 7 other wards that could vote for his representation; doesn’t want seven other wards to vote for someone to represent them.
Ernest Lowenstein: careful leadership and direction of Charter Commission, principal disagreement is the reduction of the board and the removal of the Board aldermen. Argument that 24 is too much—why is that too much? It’s a lot—people don’t know how many members there are or where they live. Feeling that we don’t like 24, disagree with chairman. Nothing wrong with 24. Something wrong with way elected—not going head to head. Mr. Laredo addressed that point—elections should be head-to-head. Only discussion was the size of the Board—no more ward aldermen. All are running at large—all have to run city-wide. Removes the local aspect—reduction of the Board and the removal of ward aldermen strikes him as throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Ward aldermen are local representatives and are important—removal puts power into the hands of those who can raise enough money. Played out against background of housing issue in the city—developers are going to have a whole lot more influence than anyone else will.
Jay Harney: experience as ward councilor—hadn’t run for anything, but there was interest in community to get someone to run against a 16-year incumbent. Was able to go knock on doors—lost but lost in a close race. Low budget campaign; daunting task to run, as a ward councilor, feels that knows everyone in his ward. Learned most that hardly anyone knew who their local representatives were –take away opportunity for “normal” citizens to run because need less money and is easier. Ward Councilor is a critically important role. Two fundamental flaws—truly no ward representation and council will be wholly elected at large—is that what people really want. Heard complaints that meetings go on too long and too late—only go long when there are important issues. Have effective system of government now—why change it? Has two great partners in his ward—work together well; Jay handles stuff within ward. Doesn’t make sense and hope will revisit.
Andrea Steenstrup: part of campaign supporting proposal, speaking on own behalf; need to update the city’s government; not a reflection of current elected officials—a lot has changed since the last charter was changed; biggest thing broken is how few people run for office—no term limits and confusing ballot. Need fresh ideas, need to groom people for bigger roles; most contested elections are empty seats; change will make elections easier to understand and to follow what councilors do; makes them much more accountable to voters; excited to vote for every city councilors; some are currently elected by 500 votes and hold a lot of influence—relish the opportunity to vote for them or against them.
Marlyn Victor: having just read recently about proposal, losing ward representatives is a real loss for people in community; you feel that much more distanced from representative and less likely to talk to them; seems very problematic; rationale for doing this is that councilors have an incentive to put parochial problems before the city—understand that perspective, but the other side is just as valid and probably more important to have a representative accountable to the ward. Otherwise feels diminished. Have 4 at-large to represent broader city-side perspective.
Marcia Johnson: thank all charter commission—elected at-large. Thanks for all their work. Fully support all aspects of revised charter; after 16 years on BoA, knows strengths and weaknesses. Wants to talk about two things: structure is #1. Principal of equal representation that all members of a chosen body are elected in the same manner and represent an equal constituency. Example is statewide office. Newton gives equal vote to at-large and ward-only. Business conducted by council impacts everyone—taxation, spending, land use; ward-only councilors cannot be held accountable by all people in 7 other wards. Need to remove it. #2—need to review that working efficiently and effectively. No way to study or implement changes—practices that see in business or in other non-profit organizations, where improvements are made. Ask citizens of Newton to look at work of City Councilors and the value that they are creating as a citizen.
Deb Crossley: done great work and well-organized; well-researched and thorough; viewpoint: smaller is better—has been sitting on council for 7 years. Prior to that spent decades very active. A lot of people voted to reduce the size in the past—now that she has sat on the city council, feels that could be more effective. More competition would be healthier in election process; smaller body will prove to be more accessible to more citizens; with a smaller body would be more likely to meet as a whole and more likely that will be more thoroughly and uniformly informed by the time ready to take a vote—less sending it back to committee, less iteration. Regarding doing away with ward councilors; from her own experience—not true that at-large councilors spend less time responding to citizen’s complaints or concerns than ward councilors. Feels she has been a very hard-working city councilor in this regard. Can tell for sure that this is not the case that a ward councilor is more responsive. If more equally informed, might be more willing to respond to issue across the city. Running for office is hard, a lot of work…have had three contested elections so far. Accountability—would rather have all councilors accountable to entire city that to one ward—agree that there shouldn’t be 7 people on a body that others can’t weigh in on. Workload can be re-organized and reduced.
Barbara Brousal-Glaser: second term as Ward 3 ward councilor; agree with Marc Laredo—think doing away with ward councilors is a terrible idea; recognize that this was a lot of work; if have to run at-large, that would not be encouraging more people to run for city council. From her perspective, the idea that ward councilors are more parochial and might do things like trading votes—find that really troubling. Hasn’t seen anything like that—neither had Lisle Baker. Find it offensive that without any substance it was being thrown around. Parochial idea—feels her job is to look at the whole city; can look at any other of the ward councilors, see concern for entire city.
Lawrence Glaser: Barbara’s husband; so respect and admire efforts on city’s behalf; support ward councilors; family got involved was hyper-local—saw what was going on in neighborhoods and decided there was an opportunity to bring good judgement and make a difference. Have direct representation at the ward level; change for the sake of change is what he hopes the don’t feel they have to do; haven’t heard justification for the changes that they are trying to make—especially direct representation. If get rid of ward councilors and have a unicameral body, decrease competition. Haven’t seen anything about what is broken that is trying to fix; when signed petition, thought would be very progressive.
Ramona Hamlin: comments are naïve and overly emotional; feel that living in a time of unprecedented attacks on democracy; feel that local community is doing the same. Only twice had to contact ward councilors, found them very responsive. Feeling after sitting through a couple of hearing, was that there would be a comment period where we would be listened to, but the decision had already been made. This feels the same—really sad about it.
Connie Kantar: long been against reducing the size of the city council; recommendation to reduce it and eliminate ward representation would drastically reduce representation. When original charter was formed, a bicameral system was established. Charter of 1897 abolished system and combined into one and reversed the ratio of ward and at-large aldermen. Various and serious issues in the latter part of 19th century were far less complex, but there was a clear understanding and belief that representation from distinct areas was important, even if it meant time-consuming discussion. Now, much bigger population, more diverse, complex issues; often require considerable time to research and understand. Smaller council means fewer people to shoulder responsibility and less understanding before making decisions. Not wise to eliminate ward councilor position—first person citizen turns to; local in Newton means in the ward; would be lost if run citywide. Propose keeping 16, plus 8, as currently is. Term limits—already have them—called elections every two years. Person can be voted out of office—takes a while to become knowledgeable on issues—seems unfair to limit those years.
Lynn Weissberg: done amazing work; would like to point out that research that has been done to support work has been beyond compare. One of purposes that commission took on was to simplify our voting process in Newton. Other than people who have testified, challenge them to randomly contact 10 voters in city and explain basic facts of city government. Predicts that at most 2/10 could answer all the questions correctly. One of the main issues raised is that people would lose representation that wards need to represent particular interests in city. Believe that based on argument that is not true—notion that constituents will only reach out to ward councilor is not correct. In her experience, if contacting city council, usually contact all councilors with email or you contact all three who live in your ward. When she’s done it, least responsive has been ward councilors. To say that the new proposal is less democratic is simply incorrect. The ward councilors can be elected with 6-700 votes, but has equal voting power. That is undemocratic. For those supporting 12 member size, but objecting to 4 at large but would prefer district model—challenge anyone to explain to the average voter what this new system would be like.
Alicia Bowman: thanks to commission for outstanding job they have done; commend for rising above the emotion and applying immense research; agree with all recommendations; A smaller board would be able to think more strategically. Lived in Newton for 20 years and sat through many meetings—heard discussions by councilors that should have been done by staff people—should not be political decisions. Her experience is that her ward councilor has been far less accessible and responsible than councilors from other wards. Easy for a sitting ward councilor to get a group to vote—they don’t need to work too hard to run. Our need for representative is driven by who we are, and not by where we live. For that reason feel that every representative should be voted on by the city. There will be at least one councilor from each ward—if not responsive, then can run against them.
James Pacheco: thankful for ward councilors, more representation is what we need and not less; feel the ward councilors are underpaid—wants to keep them.
Susan Albright: thanks for all the work they’ve done; was agnostic—wasn’t sure about changes; did own research—found some that said that change in type of representation made almost no difference in responsiveness. Seems that council doesn’t respect the committee work—argues for a smaller council. Hard to be a ward councilor—thinking that on issues where loudest voices are in your own ward that are arguing against something that would be good for the city…difficult situation. Supporting work of charter commission—could have had 4 district reps instead of at-large. Wished had dealt with 4 years staggered instead of keeping with 2 year terms. Work overall is terrific and she supports it.
Lisa Monahan: thanks to commission—impressive piece of work; very much in support of proposal—interest is in issues not ward-related, but rather city as a whole. Proposed structure is more appropriate—council people will inevitably come up with issues that are applicable city-wide rather than ward focused…never had a ward councilor knock on her door—old fashioned notion. Some city council meetings go on way too late, so all can speak (sometimes off topic), feel this will be more understandable; for those who feel fewer opps to be involved and less opps to run for office—no shortage for people to get involved in their community—plenty of ways to do that other than being a councilor. Great to embrace change—it can be hard and people can resist it. Along time since 1971, change is good and bring great new things.
George Mansfield: served as a ward aldermen for a number of years—not in that position now; cannot support recommendations; has had opportunities to be heard; many proposed changes not been mentioned tonight that he can support: revised financial procedures, reaffirmation of NAC; provision for participation in city meetings; could support term limits; but…structure of city council cannot support. Believes that in time will fundamentally change way business is conducted but the city itself. Developed proposal based on two facts—two non-binding referenda, and size if an anomaly. Both are true, but why? Was the context of ballot questions researched—who else was on the ballot? One was on a state election ballot—quite far removed from local issues. Some people feel that smaller government will mean more money in their pockets. Newton is an anomaly itself—more like a suburban town and not a city. Structure of government suits it—change the structure and change the city. A large plurality of councilors could come from one section of the city. Question discussed in past commission meeting—concern about one geographic area dominating. Response from consultant—could happen, no study has researched that.
Fred Arnstein: concerned about ward representation; can’t imagine why have recommendation to not have ward representation; be as if we all voted from reps from Wyoming; no one who represented that particular place; looked at data on website—19 cities—how many at-large or ward councilors at each city. Sees this type of representation in data. Have completely different balance that other cities; 6 out of 19 who don’t have ward representation. Doing away with representation is not common practice.
Peter Harrington: district representation is one of founding blocks of our republic; the issue that was settled when country was founded; having a large legislative body has served city well; our city government is one of the most honest governments in Massachusetts; dedicated, hard-working municipal workers; believe that have so many councilors in all city’s business; efficiency is not hallmark of city government; without district representation, minority ideas would never have a seat at the table; form is unique, works very well, serves very well. Urge to scrap proposal and keep things as they are.
Janet Taylor: lived in Newton for 40 years, worked as a volunteer, found as reached out to all councilors in all wards—councilors in two wards for whom this is an issue have gone above and beyond. Found them to be responsive. Would hate to lose that…
Nathaniel Lichten: address the use of the word “citizen”; thinks there are two places where used “citizens” and shouldn’t—should change to residents. Gave specifics on two places. About city council size and representation: was moved by Peter Harrington and won’t repeat them. Comments on resident-to-councilor ration—proposal puts us at the lower level when people are connected. At-large pool doesn’t allow for 1-to-1 elections—can’t challenge one person; risk that could have imbalance in terms of geographic representation; notes that size doesn’t mean length of meetings—Boston School Committee is case in point.
Jen Abbot: applaud effort so charter commission; strongly agree with recommendations; focus on changes to city council—only a limited number of ways that could be reasonably structured. Found that each had pros and cons. Downside to current system—voters from each ward have no say in 7 of races; votes all have equal weight, including those who have run city-wide; turnover is down, open seats are declining; fewer people are running; 74% of races are uncontested; 80% of ward seats are uncontested; challenging myths—more run at-large by choice; helped inform them as talked with voters across the city; agree that system might not be broken, but is ailing.
David Stein: too many chefs without the benefit of more and better more quality output; smaller doesn’t mean less deliberative; smaller would mean less bloated, less wasteful government.
Eunice ???: opposition to elimination of ward councilors; wards with unique needs—do not eliminate ward councilors, don’t eliminate human touch in government.
Robert Gerst: as we become smaller and more select lose diverse voices in city. Newton is an exceptional city—large, messy, diverse, sustains this city. Don’t want to stop that. If you eliminate ward councilor, will make the council less diverse. Make it ever harder (impossible) for those holding non-prevailing views to be elected; only those who hold majority view will serve. We benefit from hearing minority voices with minority views—alternative is less democratic; did serve as aldermen from ward 1 for 10 years—should remain a part of city council; voters may reject charter without local voice
Sallee Lipshutz: letter from Kathryn Winter (Waban Area Council)—at-large have been challenged in places with minority populations; admire adherence to open process; fatal blow to ideal of local representation that Newton voters cherish—directly elected ward councilor. Could lead to a slate of people elected; lower the wall that change in development must scale; local voices will be stifled who would speak for mitigation; shown disregard for local representation—leave important details to a smaller city council; area councils are assets to communities—should be encouraged in charter; adding term limits takes away power of voter; equity of term limits if not in charter
Gerard Slattery: in real estate in most wards in city of Newton; reduction in the size of the city council would be a real mistake; level of debate and engagement in city of Newton is one of the best—direct result of how the city council is constituted; Ward 1 is different from Ward 2. Unique local needs are dramatically different—each can focus on areas important to them; ward councilors haven’t been challenged is that they’ve done a pretty good job;
Susan Shepherd: Emily Norton knocked on her door one day; was wonderful councilor—felt she knew what the issues were and could engage. Important to retain ability to speak with representatives. Very much against limiting the council.
Helen Nyer: this is a post-mortem; commission had the opportunity to make a number of changes that would have benefit the residents of Newton. Without taking a survey of Newton residents, instead using to use expensive consulting service, commission decided to reduce number of city councilors. Discuss how this was done—typically simplest approach is usually the best; Occam’s Razor—simpler is preferred to more complex one; simpler one is to eliminate one of the at=large councilors. Would reduce the size significantly..why eliminate the ward councilors. Ward councilors are close to people in their wards—understand the needs of locals; trying to disempower the ward councilors—work against dense development. Many people see positive connection and the drive toward dense development in Newton. Will benefit developers and not the residents of the city.
Peter Bruce: discuss what happened in Lowell. Have all at-large system. 50% minority, but no minority representation. Newton has bad voter turnout in municipal elections—if want more participation, should have thought about going back to system had before where Mayoral elections same as Aldermen elections. Seems that didn’t care about turnout all that much; will see decline in turnout; discuss having recall of Mayor—no checks put on Mayor.
Jim Pacheco: councilors can get jobs done—if go back to 12, they will be swamped and will want a raise. Will want to have assistants—see big tax increase, we’ll pay big bucks for that. Want more representation, want it to be local.
George Mansfield: simplify election ballot and create one-on-one races in a general election; proposal as now stands would reduce ballot by 19%–suggest two other options: one to retain current 24 members with staggered 4-year terms—in any two-year ballot, make 31% simpler; other option 16 council members with staggered 4-year terms—ballot is 46% simpler. Urge that give these options some consideration; more costly city-wide campaigns would yield off-setting bonus.
March 29th is the next meeting.
Respectfully submitted by Sue Flicop
Get an update on all the work the Charter Commission has done and ask questions of members of the Charter Commission this Thursday morning, from 8 to 9:30 am at the Durant-Kenrick House, 286 Waverley Street in Newton.
We will also be holding a second meeting on the same topic, but at 7 p.m. on Thursday, at NewTV Studios, 23 Needham Street, Newton Highlands, in their conference room.
This event was postponed from earlier in February, due to a snowstorm and parking emergency conditions. Keep your fingers crossed there’s no snow this time!
Our next topic meeting, Dangerous by Design: Why our car oriented street design is dangerous, will be on March 9.