By Lisle Baker,
I urge you to join me in voting No on a proposed new Charter for Newton in November because it will weaken the representation you now have on the City Council.
As required by state law, and at Newton taxpayer expense, you will soon receive a lengthy report from the Newton Charter Commission advocating a proposed change to our City Charter. You will also receive mail, phone calls, and visits urging you to support the change.
But, as the saying goes, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. After more than three decades on our City Council (formerly Board of Aldermen) I have seen Newton’s Council work well for the entire city, as well as for residents of our eight Wards.
Under our current Charter, we have both at-large Councilors responsive to the city as a whole and Ward Councilors who live in and look out for individual neighborhoods, each with its own unique character. Just as Nonantum is not the same as Auburndale, the current system respects and bridges our differences. Newton enjoys the best of both worlds.
Our current Charter also means we can address the land use, zoning, public works, public services, public safety, and financial work through Council Committees with one member from each Ward. It avoids concentrating power in a handful of leaders, as occurs elsewhere in government, assures diversity of opinion, and keeps Councilors responsive to you and your neighborhood.
Most important, our current Charter assures that residents in each Ward have someone accountable and responsive solely to them when problems arise, be they as small as a broken street light or as large as proposed over-development nearby. For example, this Ward focus allowed me to help preserve the Waban Hill Reservoir and the Newton Commonwealth Golf Course, save historic buildings like the Durant-Kenrick Homestead, and gain neighborhood support for affordable housing like Covenant Residences on Commonwealth Avenue. My Ward colleagues have all done similar work for their constituents.
The Charter Commission, however, proposes to replace the eight Ward Councilors with four Councilors living anywhere in the city beginning in 2019. The proposal also eliminates one of the two at-large Councilors from your Ward, further weakening your voice in local decisions. The result would be a 12-member City Council lacking the diversity of opinion and local input of our current system.
In this case, less is less. Instead of having a Ward Councilor aware of and responsive to your concerns, you would have four Councilors, all of whom might reside in other Wards and not be as involved in, or as knowledgeable about, local issues that matter to you.
This change shifts the balance of local and at-large representation to one City-wide body, an outcome not good for our 13 villages or our city. It is better to update the Charter though Home Rule legislation, as we have done over the years, such as the recent change of name from Board of Aldermen to City Council.
If you agree, I respectfully ask that you vote No on the Charter change in November and urge your friends to do the same. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please call me at home at 617-566-3848. You can also go to http://newtondemocracy.org for more information and to learn how you can help. Again, please vote No on November 7.
Lisle Baker is the Ward Councilor for Ward Seven in Newton and former President of the Newton City Council.
From 7/26/2017 Newton Tab
I found the July 5 letter submitted by Susan Flicop on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Newton deeply troubling. She listed the reasons for LWVN’s support of the proposed changes to the City Charter, which would, among other things, reduce the number of city councilors and eliminate ward representation.
Ms. Flicop states, “Just because a councilor lives in the same ward doesn’t mean that they (sic) represent the same views as their neighbors.” This is an absurd statement. It is basic to our system of democracy at both federal and state levels to have geographical representation. The assumption is that elected officials represent the geographical interests of their constituents. If not, they can be voted out. It should be obvious that a councilor who lives in Newtonville and elected by people living in Newtonville will be more motivated to be concerned about the issues of Newtonville than a councilor residing in Waban.
She continues, “what happens in one part of Newton affects everyone...” What is the basis for such a statement?
Further, in communities that changed to at-large councils, two effects have been noted. First, elected city councilors reside in the more affluent sections of the city; and second, with respect to Lowell in particular with its 40 percent minority population, there is no minority representation in its city council or school committee.
Finally, she states, “minorities...are spread throughout Newton, and this new voting structure would give them more power to elect a person who represents their views.” Her assumption that “minorities” in Newton all have the same views is offensive.
If this letter represents the views of the League of Women Voters, it makes me ashamed to be a woman voter.
Newton Tab, July 2017