If you are not already aware of the Charter Commission’s proposal to reduce the size of our governing board, you should pay attention.
There are many contentious issues facing Newton citizens in all villages, especially in the areas of development, housing and zoning.
Reducing the board from 24 to 12 councillors puts the power of decision making into the hands of very few. This proposal removes the one locally-voted ward councillor from each ward and therefore eliminating accountability. This proposal is flawed.
Consider projects that adversely affect or have affected your neighborhood. Under this proposal, you will only have citywide elected officials and only 12 of them to state your case.
Our system has worked since its inception. Keep our 24-councillor board intact. It gives every citizen a chance to be heard by locally-voted government representatives. Smaller ward sizes ensure neighborhood input and participation.
I urge you to vote against this badly conceived proposal.
Cyrus Whittier, Winchester Street, Newton (link)
By Bob Jampol
Friends: Having thought about it for a while, I have decided to oppose
the efforts to shrink the City Council from 24 to 12 members. The
Council as currently constituted has three representatives for each of
the eight wards of the city. One of the three runs strictly within the
ward, and the other two, who must live in that ward, run at-large
(city-wide). The arrangement guarantees local representation and at
least one councilor approved exclusively by those who live in the ward.
In contrast the Charter Commission recommends 12 councilors, all of whom
run at-large. Eight of the twelve would reside in a specific ward, but the
remaining four can live in any ward. In theory, then, five of the 12
councilors might come from but one ward of the city. That seems a very
bad idea to me because it undermines the notion of a legislative body
that represents each neighborhood of Newton equally.
The reformers claim that the current arrangement is too large and
unwieldy, and that a smaller council would run more efficiently. I
attend many City Council and committee meetings in my role as advocate
for tennis and activist for many causes, from leaf blowers to housing.
Quite often I find myself in the minority on issues. Nonetheless, I
admire the members of the current council, all of whom serve on several
committees and spend countless hours for little pay ($10,000?). The
large size of the council is an advantage, in my view- there is much
work to do.
I fear that a smaller council, all of whose members must run city-wide,
would fall even further under the sway of the big money interests,
particularly those behind the tear-downs and the mega-projects sprouting
all over Newton. To run at-large costs a candidate lots more than merely
to compete in a district. As it is, the corporate forces already mostly
get their way in city government. If the Charter Commission's efforts
succeed, the balance of power will shift further that way.
In brief, I recommend that you vote against the the Charter Commission's
I urge you all to vote “NO” on the Newton Charter Commission Recommendation. A No vote preserves your neighborhood voice. Don’t let the laudable goal of reducing the numbers of the Council obscure the proposal’s major impact: reducing the power of neighborhoods to influence city policy.
My faimliy has lived in West Newton since 1972, two daughters thrived in the Newton schools, and we enjoyed the many benefits of the city. Our neighborhood is diverse economically, culturally, generationally and ethnically. Each section of the city has its own mix. We all will lose the unique mix of our many neighborhoods if we vote to go to a council that is elected city-wide.
Don’t let the “city-wide constituency-ward residence” option fool you. An election based on an all city-wide contest, compared to a ward-only contest, requires more money and more visibility, and frankly less local appeal, to get enough votes for election. City-wide voting, even with a residency requirement, dilutes the power of neighborhoods, and weakens each councilor’s accountability for her or his actions. We all need councilors who respond to our unique neighborhood concerns. Consider the many issues that Newton will deal with in the future. Do you think that your neighborhood might just have a different perspective than other villages? In a city-wide council, the councilor who lives in your ward will still need electoral support from all over the city. With that in mind, can you be certain that that councilor will put your interests first?
Do we want the future driven by city-wide fiscal and development plans without any need to accommodate local concerns? We are one city, but each village is unique, and deserves its own voice. That voice will be quieter if we elect all our councilors city-wide, even with a residency requirement.
37 South Gate Park
West Newton, MA 02465
While the current council of 24 members appears large to the average citizen, most of its activity involves work on eight committees that a smaller council might struggle to complete. Ward 7 councilor and Council President Emeritus Lisle Baker has produced a number of videos (Councilors at Work) that outline the activities of the council including that of the City Council Meeting along with the Program and Services, Finance, Public Safety and Transportation, Real Property Reuse, Public Facilities, Land Use, and Zoning and Planning committees. Most of these committees are unfamiliar to the average voter particularly BECAUSE they function well.
There is no supportable logic behind the notion that eliminating local representation at the level of the Newton City Council is a boon to democracy. Newton is a city of diverse villages and neighborhoods; we ought to ensure the broadest possible representation of the different parts of our city. While it is true that our City Council is too large, the obvious solution is to eliminate the least-representative seats—which are the at-large seats.
If the City Charter changes, rest assured that the City Council will endure as a homogenous group of people much like the current elected representatives who support the change. It will be a defeat for broad democratic representation in our city. One cannot help but wonder whether the support of these current “leaders” is precisely for that reason.
Scott M. Cooper, Bowdoin Street, Newton Highlands Newton Tab 8/22/17