Watch Marc Laredo's closing argument at the Charter debate on 10/22/2017 at Angier School.
Newton TAB Endorses NO vote on Charter (link).
Ward representation has been a critical element of Newton’s political process for 125 years, ensuring the city’s diverse villages each have a voice on matters before City Council.
But the Charter Commission’s proposal, to be voted upon Nov. 7, would eliminate the city’s eight ward-elected councilors.
A 12-member City Council, elected entirely at large, would be too small, overly centralized and lack the checks and balances provided by ward representation. Newton is a city of villages, each with a distinct personality. Eliminating the by-the-ward, for-the-ward aspect of local representation should be something that concerns residents, no matter where they stand on any number of issues. Because of this flaw alone, the Newton TAB strongly endorses a No vote on the Charter Commission’s proposed package of revisions.
Is a 24-member City Council too large, as advocates of the charter reform plan claim? Absolutely it is — which is why voters established the Charter Commission by a landslide in 2015. And other elements of the commission’s plan, specifically the establishment of term limits for mayor and city councilors, do make sense. Gutting the core of Newton’s longstanding system of balanced representation in an attempt to increase City Council efficiency should not, however, be viewed as a “best practice.”
A city councilor elected from a ward does not have the same level of accountability as one elected by that ward. Don’t be confused by claims to the contrary, or by the language on the ballot. An at-large councilor may choose to be responsible for dealing with the issues, both big and small, that occur on a regular basis in our neighborhoods. But there is no political compulsion to do so. On the other hand, councilors elected by ward residents, if unresponsive to their constituents’ needs, may face a challenge and perhaps be defeated in a bid for reelection. In other words, the ward councilor system provides built-in accountability for neighborhood representation and good local governance. At-large representation is important in its own right, but city interests and more local interests sometimes can conflict.
Moreover, the position of ward councilor makes running for City Councilor much more accessible to many candidates, especially those who lack sufficient time and/or money to campaign across Newton’s 18-plus square miles. Running for a ward seat on City Council is much less expensive and time-consuming because a candidate need only reach voters in his or her ward, four precincts instead of 32.
It’s also important to realize when you vote in less than two weeks that most members of City Council have finally recognized what residents have been saying for years: 24 members is too many. If the charter question is rejected Nov. 7, the City Council’s Programs & Services Committee will one night later begin deliberating a plan to reduce membership by a third, through a Home Rule Petition plan that would eventually return to voters for approval. Importantly, this plan retains all eight ward council positions, along with eight that would be elected citywide.
On Nov. 7, Election Day 2017, vote No on the Charter Commission’s plan. By doing so you will vote to protect ward representation — which creates the balance between village and citywide interests. Our 13 villages are what make us unique. They deserve a level playing field.
What can the viral video of the cute three-year-old's plaintive pleas tell us about how we should vote on the Newton Charter Commission's proposal? The need to be heard, understood, reckoned with, acknowledged is a deep and early human attribute– and it is imperiled by the Charter Commission's proposal. The maneuver to eliminate the ward-only Councilor is a bold maneuver AWAY FROM the responsiveness and direct personal relationship we expect and need from those who are there to REPRESENT us.
The Newton Charter Commission took a potentially valid problem (too many councilors– either for pensions and payroll, or for consensus- and decision-management: i. e. the problem of "herding cats"), deliberated – and came up with exactly the wrong solution. Currently, TWO "at-large-" and ONE "ward-only-" -voted representatives come from each district. Rather than perform the obvious reductive surgery of halving the doubled at-large-councilors and keeping the only ward-only-, the commission did the opposite: eliminating all locally voted reps.
A quick look at Newton’s history gives perspective of how this situation arose, as well as insight to its solution. Originally, Newton had a bicameral representation system, consisting of the Board of Aldermen’s body of ONE at-large member from each ward -- AND the separate Common Council’s chamber of TWO locally-voted councilors/ward. Bills had to pass each of these separate houses. In 1897, Newton's new charter merged these two houses and FLIPPED the ratio representation to its current configuration of two At-Large and one "local" Councilor from each ward.
The original system could be seen as analogous to our federal and state systems of senators and representatives, with (in both cases) senators' being less locally attuned and responsive. That representatives are elected every two years and senators every six years acknowledges the people's need for closer attenuation and greater attention to their needs in a representative democracy. Senators tend to look more at the "big picture", but constituents get a closer and quicker hearing from those most responsive to their votes – their local "at-small" rather than “at-large” representative.
So why did the Charter Commission eliminate the local rather than one of the two at-large councilors? Eliminating representatives with greater ties to their local area is the obvious answer. As former Aldermen Marcia Johnson wrote a year ago: "It’s not a people problem, it is a structural problem. (From) taxation to spending to land use regulation, ward-only councilors simply cannot be held accountable for their actions by people from the other seven wards… they are only accountable to one-eighth of the electorate." Oh, by the way, that "one-eighth of the electorate" -- that's YOU(!), ...when you happen not to agree with THEM.
The inferred purpose, then, is to have everybody be able to be more beholden to some presumed "greater political will". Please, keep in mind, that the first change of Newton's elective representation system went in exactly the same direction, quadrupling the erstwhile city-wide- versus local- Alderman-ratio. So, in a system that was already rejiggered to subsume the local will to the general, the current change – rather than to deal with the "listen to me" voters' needs – just eliminates these most responsive local representatives.
Oftentimes, our government is mistaken to be solely a democracy – when, in actuality, it is a republic. The distinction is that a pure democracy can breed a so-called "tyranny of the majority", wherein the rights and interests of some can be contravened, eliminated, and ignored by those of others whose opinions happen to align with a majority – or even worse happen to align with certain empowered interests who are able to convince merely a majority of representatives. The essence of a republic is to maintain ideas, rights and interests balanced across a wider spectrum – to act as ballast for continuity, bulwark against peremptory (and possibly attractive but often facile) "big ideas". Our system differs from a parliamentary, and is more nearly immune to citizens’ being steamrolled.
The Charter Commission, in the interest of restraint and responsiveness, could have and should have eliminated the "extra" / duplicated at-large representative and maintained the locally responsible one. Their not having done so validly speaks to their motives and our need to reject their proposal. Vote “NO”.
PS: Legislation that would “correctly” reduce the size of the Newton City Council has been filed: eliminating half the at-large councilors – leaving 8 ward, and 8 at-large. Counselor Emily Norton believes “16 is large enough to avoid group-think yet still allow for a diversity of opinion (and avoid power-centralization)’.
See commentary from Ward Councilors John Rice and Emily Norton in this week's Newton Tab.
"Ward Councilors bring the concerns of individuals to City Hall and advocate for them, so the ward councilor is typically the first person residents call when they run into a municipal roadblock"
Andrew Martin, Newton Centre
In the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts communities with city councils, the councils consist of both ward and at-large councilors. In only 10 of the 351 communities in the state – under 3 percent – are there councils consisting entirely of at-large councilors; in less than a handful are there councils consisting entirely of ward councilors.
This reflects a clear consensus across the state that the combination of ward and at-large councilors assures that both community-wide and neighborhood perspectives enter into council deliberations. Councils consisting only of ward councilors are vulnerable to blockage of policies that might have been deemed beneficial to the city as whole by a majority of at-large and minority of ward councilors. Similarly, councils consisting only of at-large councilors are vulnerable to imposition of policies that might have been deemed damaging to neighborhoods by a majority of ward and minority of at-large councilors. In contrast, a mix of ward and at-large councilors encourages shifting coalitions across both likely to balance city-wide and ward concerns in positive-sum solutions. It also limits the ability of particular groups and interests concentrated in sections of the communities to dominate the legislative process.
Constitutional provisions such as those structuring representation don't guarantee any political outcomes. They only influence the likelihood of some outcomes more than others, while leaving scope for political action in diverse directions. The proposal for an exclusively at-large council in Newton leaves too much scope for political action that results in unequal representation and enables powerful interests to impose costs on neighborhoods that lack representation. A vote against the proposal makes that less likely by preserving the mix of ward and at-large councilors overwhelmingly prevalent in Massachusetts. It does so, at worst, by preserving the current 24 member council or, at best, by opening the way for the establishment of an 8 ward and 8 at-large council. This could be accomplished through a Home Rule Petition to which a majority of the present Council is already committed.
See the chart below for a comparison of the all at-large council proposed for Newton with a sample of councils in Massachusetts cities of varying size.
When I hear the argument that the Charter Commission's proposal for a new structure for Newton's City Council would make us more "efficient", I encourage us to think more deeply about that. I don't think we want democracy to be too efficient. Dictatorships are efficient.
With 24 councilors we do not suffer from groupthink, where people feel pressured to go along with the popular opinion. With 24 people we have a diversity of opinion, which helps lead to better decisionmaking. With 24 people there are many entry points for a citizen to contact his or her elected officials.
I will also note that the decisions that take longer to be voted in are those that are more contentious, and that’s a good thing – it means we really wrestled with it. I will give 2 examples.
It took seven years for us to place additional restrictions on the use of leafblowers. Why? Because there are very strong opinions on both sides around the city, and so when it was first brought up, there was not the support for additional restrictions, but over time support grew for them, enough so that last spring we did vote to shorten the season they could be used, decrease the allowed decibel level, and so on. No one can claim we did not hear their opinion on it, or that we didn’t consider all sides of the issue. That doesn’t mean everyone is happy with the outcome of course, but we did act.
I will contrast that with our vote to pass a “Welcoming City” ordinance. There was strong and vocal support from many many citizens, including many that were reaching out to their city councilors for the first time ever. As there was much more consensus among residents and councilors that we act, that ordinance was voted in relatively quickly over the course of a few months, with adjustments, such as giving the police chief the discretion to act when public safety at risk, that enabled nearly all involved to support it.
I will give one last example for your consideration. I was one of three councilors who filed legislation to put limitations on the use of drones, at the request of several constituents who were concerned about privacy and safety from improper use. The draft bill was sent to the Public Safety Committee where it was discussed several times over the course of several months. During that time it was covered in the Tab and I also wrote about it in my newsletter, but it wasn’t until well into the process that I was contacted by a constituent who had only recently heard about it, and he was very opposed and wanted to discuss it with me. I said of course. He asked if he could bring some drones to my house for me to see in action. I said of course. It turns out this constituent leads a Newton North High School drone enthusiast club. So he brings several drones over to my house and flies them around my front yard. When I saw how excited my three boys were to see the drones in action, and as the constituent told me about how much students learn about engineering and mechanics from the drones, I began to see the “positive” side of them, i.e. have a fuller picture of them. Then I listened as this individual told me about the existing federal law already governing drones, and other data points I hadn’t heard even in all our prior Committee meeting discussions, I actually ended up changing my mind and voting against this legislation that I had filed! (That is not a common occurrence.)
My point is that if we had moved more “efficiently”, we would have taken a vote before I had all the information I needed to make a fully informed decision, simply because it takes time for citizens to learn what we are doing – not everyone reads the Tab, not everyone attends our meetings, etc. It is a good thing that the governing body does not move at lightning speed. It allows us to be deliberative, to hear input from our thousands of citizens, to read letters in the Tab, and simply to mull things over.
Having said all that, do I think we absolutely have to have 24 councilors? While I do see the benefit, I have also heard from many citizens that would like to see a smaller body. For that reason 14 councilors, including myself, have filed legislation that would reduce the size of the City Council but do it in a different way – we would eliminate 8 at-large councilors which would leave us as a body of 16 councilors – 8 ward, and 8 at-large. I think 16 is large enough to avoid group think and still allow for a diversity of opinion and the other benefits I laid out above. But I don’t think it would make us more “efficient” - and that’s a good thing!
If you have followup questions I am happy to do my best to answer them.
By Martina Jackson
On November 7th I will vote NO on the Charter Commission’s proposal to restructure the Newton City Council. In eliminating our eight locally elected council members, the commission has removed our local voice. Their argument that the new model is more democratic because everyone votes for everybody is disingenuous: expedient, but not democratic.
In the commission’s model, a ward may vote for a candidate who is defeated by the vote of the rest of the city. Moreover, with four candidates running without any residency requirement, at least 4 wards will have only one resident councilor while others may have several, or possibly, one may have as many as 5. The Commission is an example of that inequity: Ward 2 had four members; Ward 5, 2 –both from Waban- and Wards 3,4, and 6 had one each. There were no commission members from Wards 1,7, and 8: nearly 40% of the city was not represented.
Clearly, the commission wants a dissent-free council, with members elected in slates. The Newton League of Women Voters is leading the “Yes” charge and pressuring candidates to endorse their position. “Yes” slates are emerging. As an example of the “Yes” campaign’s unwillingness to compromise, when Commissioner Jane Frantz proposed the modest adjustment of replacing the 4 non-residency seats with 4 at-large district seats and the commission voted 5 to 4 in favor, the “Yes” proponents at the hearing vociferously objected and stormed out of the Council chamber followed by Commission vice-chair Rhanna Kidwell. At its next meeting, the commission reversed itself.
In the proposed council model, money and special interests will determine successful candidates. Candidates of limited means could not afford to run citywide without likely special interest backing. The last council member to run at-large in a contested race spent more than $30,000 to achieve his victory. Successful candidates will need an agenda acceptable to a well-financed slate or have considerable personal financial resources.
As a longtime community activist and proponent of affordable housing – I supported the Austin Street project in my neighborhood and Engine 6 – I want Newton to attract an economically diverse population and I will continue to advocate for more affordable housing. But, that goal is achievable without sacrificing our local vote or by replacing our democratically elected council with a meritocracy.
115 Lowell Avenue, Newtonville
Under the proposed charter, there is no guarantee -- not even any incentive -- for a Ward Councilor elected primarily by others to be representative of the wishes of the voters in the Ward in which the Councilor happens to reside. Residency doesn't imply representation.
An imperfect but illustrative analogy: Lt. General Thomas Gage and John Hancock were each Governors of Massachusetts -- each were required to reside in the colony. But what a difference! The former was selected externally (appointed by the Crown) while the latter was elected locally. The analogy is imperfect because these were executives, not legislators -- and being appointed by the Crown is not the same as being elected primarily by voters in other Wards of the city. But we can still learn from the comparison. Internally-selected Hancock was representative of the colony's residents, and externally-selected Gage was not.
52 Vaughn Ave
The Charter Commission proposal eliminates the 8 ward-elected councilors who provide us with village-level constituent service and advocacy. This is not a system that retains ward representation. If this change passes, no ward will have a councilor directly focused on, and accountable to, its residents. Vote NO on Nov. 7th.
The current city charter is very clear with regard to defining "representation" in the context of filling of council vacancies. Councilors at large represent and are elected by, the voters of the whole city while THE VOTERS ENTITLED TO SUCH REPRESENTATION elect the ward councilors.
Newton Tab Commentary, 10/18/2017
Newton voters will face a stark choice this November — do we want to replace our current system of equal representation on our City Council with one that reduces diversity of opinion, is inherently unequal, limits accountability, and is more likely to lead to special interests dominating our city government? The answer to that question is NO, and I ask that you join me in voting against the proposed charter on Nov. 7.
The proposed city charter will result in a less effective, less accountable, and less responsive city government.
First, the proposal limits diversity of opinion and is inherently unequal. Currently, membership on the City Council is allocated evenly throughout the city (divided between councilors elected citywide and those elected solely by each ward). This allows for an array of voices to be heard on important city issues and fosters positive consensus outcomes. Under the proposed charter, nearly half of the councilors could reside in one small section of the city, increasing the likelihood that narrow perspectives or special interests will dominate Newton’s government.
Some argue that since all of the School Committee is elected at-large so should the City Council. As someone who has served on both bodies (and as the former Chair of the School Committee), the answer is easy — they are two different entities with very different purposes and responsibilities. The School Committee is a board of directors whose job is to oversee a single school system. In contrast, the City Council is a legislative body which is supposed to represent the diverse interests of the various parts of the city. The local concerns of residents of Nonantum are different than those of Newton Upper Falls, which, in turn, differ from those in Chestnut Hill.
Second, the proposal reduces access and accountability. We currently have eight ward councilors who provide village-level constituent service and advocacy on the Council for residents — the proposed system replaces all of them with four at-large councilors without any ties to any particular area of the city.
Under our current system, if you run from a ward, either as a ward councilor or a councilor at-large, you need to be responsive to the residents in your district. Ward councilors are the most directly accountable. If a ward councilor does not return his or her constituents’ telephone calls or ignores their views, he or she may well face an opponent in the next election. At–large councilors have less direct accountability, but still need to be accessible to and representative of those in their wards. The four at-large anywhere candidates with no residency requirements who would be elected under the proposed charter would have no such obligations or accountability.
Third, the proposal is anti-democratic. When candidates run only within their ward, they can knock on doors, and the cost of campaigning is moderate. In contrast, citywide races are much more expensive, which by necessity will limit the pool of applicants to those who can self-fund, are able to raise large amounts of money, or have access to established political networks. Moreover, the proposal to have four councilors elected from anywhere in the city (electing those with the top four total votes) will reduce the ability to vote up or down on a particular candidate.
Finally, this is not about the size of the City Council. A majority of the City Council has sponsored legislation to reduce the size of the council from 24 to 16. I back this legislation because it reduces the size of the City Council in a manner that preserves equal representation and diversity, allows voters to directly vote for or against a particular candidate, is not anti-democratic, and makes it less likely that special interests will dominate our city government.
The Charter Commission chose a system that will create unequal representation, decrease diversity, concentrate power, and increase the influence of special interests. I urge all Newton voters to vote NO on Nov. 7.
Marc Laredo is a city councilor.
We will vote NO to the charter commission’s proposal for one significant reason: the election of ward councilors is fully at large rather than by ward/neighborhood. We are disappointed that the League of Women Voters has not provided a balanced pro and con analysis as it does for statewide ballot initiatives. While the commission did hold public hearings, the entire campaign sounds like a “fait accompli” rather than a full debate on the issues.
The November 4 proposal for a council of twelve with all members elected at large eliminates a major check against domination by well-organized city-wide constituencies. Newton’s direct representation from its villages with different needs and priorities has proven every effective and should not be eliminated.
The proposed council will concentrate power in people representing city-wide constituencies with only secondary advocacy for their village’s interests. The new council requires only seven councilors to constitute a majority vote. Seven or more candidates representing specific interests, for example developers, could easily be recruited and supported across different wards. Conceivably, five members could be elected from one ward.
The proposed council of twelve elected city-wide will NOT create a “more effective and responsive government” given the risk of domination of city-wide constituencies at the expense of specific village needs. Given human nature, it is almost certain that more positive changes will take place in the best represented villages while more negative changes will take place in the underrepresented villages.
The charter commission has made a case for some change in Newton’s governing structure. But the combination of reduced size and city-wide voting creates undue risk to the tradition of village governance in Newton.
Charles and Katharine Stover
72 Saint Mary’s Street
Newton Lower Falls
Supporters of the proposed charter change from Mayor Warren on down claim it preserves ward representation. This claim is simply false: by eliminating ward-elected councilors and making all councilors elected at-large, the change unambiguously eliminates ward representation. The contrary claim relies on the requirement that each of eight at-large councilors live in the ward for which they are designated as councilors, as at-large councilors are now. But this is not equivalent to, nor a substitute for, election of ward councilors exclusively by ward voters. To pretend otherwise is, at best, to misunderstand the basic logic of representative government or, at worst, disingenuous.
Representative government works by the way elected representatives are held accountable: a "representative" elected by a geographically defined electorate – a nation, state, city, or ward -- is accountable to that electorate because it alone can vote that representative out of office. So if the electorate is a whole state, the electorate within a subdivision of the state (e.g., a city) can't hold the representative accountable since it can't vote the representative out of office. And if the electorate is the whole city, the electorate within a city's subdivision (e.g., a ward) can't hold the representative accountable for the same reason. So whether a representative chosen by the voters of a whole jurisdiction lives in a subdivision of that jurisdiction or not makes no difference to the inability of the subdivision voters to vote the representative out of office.
That residence isn't what makes a representative accountable is implicitly recognized in the US Constitution. In specifying eligibility for membership in the House of Representatives, Article 1, Section 2, ¶ 2 does not require that House members live in the districts they represent, stating only that "a Representative . . . [shall] be an Inhabitant of that State in which he [sic] shall be chosen." As a practical matter, our members of Congress are expected to live in our districts, as our ward councilors are currently expected to live in our wards. But that isn't what enforces their accountability to us. What does it is the fact that the district and ward electorates, respectively, can vote them out of office. Thus, the charter change requirement that eight of the councilors elected by the whole Newton electorate must live in designated wards in no way enforces the councilors' accountability to those wards' electorates since they are nevertheless deprived of the possibility of voting the councilors out of office. So all the talk about a representative elected by the whole city being a representative of a ward in which the representative lives obscures this fundamental point.
The charter change designers' aim of limiting local influence is signaled by the provision that there be no ward residence requirement for 4 of the 12 councilors. This makes it mathematically possible for there to be five councilors living in one ward to be elected, leaving seven to be elected elsewhere so that there will be no councilor living in four wards. While this is not probable, it is probable as well as possible for there to be no councilor living in one or more wards. If residence matters for representation as the designers claim, then they've made representation likely to be unequally distributed among wards, with some wards having none.
Ward representation can obviously be kept both real and equal while also achieving the objective of reducing the council's size simply by retaining the ward councilors while eliminating 8 of the current 16 at-large councilors. The charter change supporters haven't provided a clear public explanation why they didn't support that alternative. However, 14 of the Council's current members have proposed exactly that alternative, to be achieved through a Home-Rule petition. That option would become available if, but only if, the proposed revision is rejected in the November election. Voting No on the revision would thereby open up a way to reduce the council's size without sacrificing local representation. If reducing the present at-large:ward ratio of 2:1 to 1:1 is unacceptable, then the only way to preserve real and equal ward representation is to vote No and leave the 24-member Council as is. Either way, a vote against the proposed charter change preserves the local representation inherent in the basic logic of representative government.
9 Applegarth St.
Newton Centre, MA 02459
I VALUE MY WARD COUNCILOR!
I value my Ward Councilor – and I don’t want to lose him/her! My Ward Councilor is Lisle Baker. He is my first link to City Government. He represents me, my neighbors, my Ward. He is accountable to us. Without our support, he would no longer represent us. . “All politics is local,” said the late Tip O’Neill, U.S. Rep. from Boston and Speaker of the House of Representatives. Local representation has a secure place in our democratic system, and it begins at the Ward level. Newton’s founders recognized this important unit of government, at a time when we had far fewer voters in Newton, and were an agrarian, homogeneous society, not the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic (with a range of household incomes) community that we are today. We often note that each village of Newton has its unique character. This diversity calls for a local level of representation. In Massachusetts, 75% of cities have more Ward Councilors than at-large Councilors. All at-large city councils in Massachusetts have been found to be more homogeneous and less representative of their constituents than those with ward-elected councilors.
The Ward Councilor is the first one we call for the smallest of issues - perhaps a traffic light - or on a much larger scale, to preserve a golf course as a public course, or to preserve a historic home and grounds with history back to our Revolution, as is the case with the Durant-Kenrick House and Grounds. Every Ward or village has specific issues – large and small – and the Ward Councilor is our first – and many times, best – facilitator to resolve the issue, or to steer us through City Departments and processes.
One criticism of our 24 member Council is that Council meetings are sometimes long, redundant , and a decision seems hard to come by. This is democracy! It is often messy, inefficient, time-consuming, even boring! But different opinions are heard, and one hopes that with give and take, decisions will be made that are reasonably satisfactory to all concerned. Solutions should be the product of a variety of opinions and well-reasoned deliberation, with community input. Neighborhood representation is very important, so that, finally, there might be modification and compromise satisfactory to all sides. Eliminating the Ward Councilor means that a neighborhood might not be adequately represented in such deliberations.
Moreover, we must consider the financial impact of being a candidate within the Ward, or as an at-large candidate. It takes a much heftier campaign budget to reach the entire City population than running a campaign within the Ward. Moreover, within the Ward, a candidate can knock on every door and get to know his constituents and their concerns. A Council that is elected only at-large could be skewed toward people with big pockets who do not represent many areas of our City. .
A Ward Councilor and two at large Councilors from each Ward give ample opportunity for access, and there are members enough to insure diversity of opinion and skills on the various Committees of the Council. Councilors are part-time, now, but their commitment to the City of Newton and to their constituents is a very time-consuming job. To understand the issues about which they must make decisions often requires research, hearings, Committee meetings. A reduction of the Council from 24 councilors to 12 would mean our Councilors would shoulder much heavier demands. There is a danger that they will be spread too thinly, resulting in much less appreciation and understanding of the issues on which they must vote. It seems to me it would be very difficult for a person to be only a ‘part-time’ Councilor. We would lose diversity as well as the enrichment of opinion and skills from people whose experiences spread across a broad spectrum of business and life.
I vote for keeping our eight Ward Councilors, and in addition, two Councilors per ward, elected at-large (24 Councilors in total), a form of government that has worked for Newton for over a century, from the time we were an agrarian, homogeneous society to the multi-cultural and more complex society we are today.
Constance G. Kantar
382 Kenrick Street
The City of Newton sent out a summary of the charter question on the ballot to all households. You should have received it or will receive it shortly.
The first portion is the summary of the charter change as it will appear on the ballot. This was authored by the charter commission. They declined to include a sentence mentioning the elimination of ward-elected councilors from city government.
The 2nd section is an objective summary of the charter changes authored by the city law department.
Finally the 3rd and 4th sections lay out the case for and against the charter authored by the Yes and No ballot committees.
The summary is available online at the bottom of the elections page on the City website.
Marc Laredo and Martina Jackson faced off against Brooke Lipsett and Tom Sheff on NewTV Common Ground with Ken Parker last week to make the case against the Charter Commission's proposed changes to Newton's constitution (the charter).
See Andy Levin's editorial in this week's Newton Tab.
The Boston Globe featured the Charter Commission Chair Josh Krintzman and Newton Ward Councilor Emily Norton presenting the case for and against the proposed replacement of Newton's Constitution, the city charter.
Below is Emily's case against the charter:
Newton Ward 2 City Councilor
Voters should vote “No” on Nov. 7 because the proposed changes to the composition of the City Council are extreme and would make Newton’s government less effective, less accountable, and more easily dominated by special interests.
The Charter Commission proposal would downsize the City Council by eliminating all eight ward councilors, who are elected by voters in each ward, and instead provide for 12 at-large councilors elected by all voters citywide — one residing in each ward plus four residing anywhere in the city.
One effect of this change would be to make it easier for influential private developers to get projects approved. Why? Because unlike a ward councilor elected by voters of that ward, a ward councilor elected citywide could ignore concerns of abutters and still easily win re-election, simply because the city is so big. Regardless of one’s position about development, it is valuable to ensure the concerns of those most affected are at least considered; projects are often improved with neighborhood feedback.
This change will also limit who can run and win council seats. Citywide campaigns are much more expensive, so they benefit those who can self-fund or raise large amounts of money. They also benefit those connected to established political networks.
Lastly, four at-large councilors from anywhere means one ward could have five of the 12 councilors. In contrast, our current system ensures equitable representation.
As I have knocked on hundreds of doors throughout Newton the last few months, I have found that while some voters do support downsizing, they don’t support doing it by eliminating ward representation. For that reason I am one of 14 councilors proposing an alternative downsizing option — a “Plan B,” that is — reducing the City Council to sixteen members: eight ward and eight at-large. This Plan B is written in such a way that it only moves forward if the Charter Commission proposal is defeated.
So if you like the idea of downsizing but want to maintain ward councilors, vote “No” on Nov. 7. With 14 co-sponsors, a majority of the City Council, Plan B will move ahead — but only if the Charter Commission’s version is voted down Nov. 7. For more information on the campaign against the charter change, visit newtondemocracy.org.
Below is a fact check on the arguments made for the charter by Mr. Krintzman.
Please login to your Boston Globe account and vote NO on charter in the poll.
See the Newton Tab editorial last week supporting a NO VOTE on the CHARTER and a subsequent city council plan to give voters a different city council option in 2018:
One way or the other, our 24-member City Council appears likely to be substantially smaller in the next few years.
Now voters could have a choice about its size and composition, thanks to a docket item co-sponsored by 14 councilors, guaranteeing its approval if the full City Council can vote on the matter before year’s end.
In a nutshell, here’s the scenario: The Charter Commission has proposed a 12-member City Council, all elected at-large, to be acted upon by voters Nov. 7. If approved, this version of a smaller City Council would become effective in January 2020.
The City Council plan (which would move ahead only if the Charter Commission’s ballot initiative is rejected by voters) proposes 16 councilors, eight elected by ward only and eight citywide. This plan would be forwarded to the state Legislature as a Home Rule petition and following its anticipated approval would return for voter ratification here, perhaps as early as November 2018.
While not perfect, we think the City Council’s plan is a far better option because it would preserve exclusive ward representation. In other words, councilors elected by the ward, for the ward. This system of government has served the Garden City well since the late 19th century, ensuring that each section of the city has a representative directly accountable to its residents... and their specific needs. An entirely at-large City Council, regardless of residency requirements, would not do that.
When the League of Women Voters was collecting thousands of signatures to put the establishment of a Charter Commission on the ballot, a consensus seemed to emerge that 24 councilors was too many. We agree, but maintain residents’ best interests would not be served at all by eliminating ward councilors.
Think about this before heading to the polls in six weeks: You can protect ward representation by voting against the charter revision question while at the same time knowing a process is underway to reduce the size of City Council by a third. In our opinion, this is a sensible option.