The 9-member Charter Commission has proposed changing our city government by replacing ward-elected city council seats with four at-large seats lacking residency requirements. In my opinion this will lead to three adverse and unintended consequences.
First, it will make public office less accessible to non-incumbents lacking city-wide name recognition. Instead of those earning votes by “walking the ward” or community service, it will favor candidates supported by special-interests.
Second, it will dilute accountability. City-wide elections are driven by name recognition over performance. “Pick-4” candidates cannot be challenged head to head. Bullet voting and special interest slates will confound the process. Collaboration will suffer as Pick-4 councilors vie to ensure they are not eliminated in the next election.
Third, it will allow over 40% of the council to hail from one ward, street, or household. Wards with equal geographical representation today could face wards with 5 times more voting power. Affluent parts of the city will dominate the council.
Our City Council has 24 councilors – one elected by each ward, and two who live in each ward elected city-wide. The commission could for example, shrink the council by eliminating 8 of the 16 at-large councilors. This would maintain ward-elected, geographically-balanced representation and mirror the direct representation seen at the state and national level, as well as in 14 of the 20 largest Massachusetts cities.
Our city charter should be durable and timeless. Advocacy developing around the charter suggests changes are being driven by contemporary development debates. While the diverse opinions we face today are messy, does it make sense to just engineer them out of the system? Newton can do better.
Please urge the commission to preserve ward-elected councilors and leave a positive legacy for their efforts. A Ballot Measure Committee, “Newton Citizens for Local Representation“, will oppose the charter if it eliminates ward-elected representation. To help in this effort, email firstname.lastname@example.org