By Nancy Tener (Letter to Newton Tab)
On Tuesday Nov. 7 Newton voted down the proposed Charter by a margin of 2,000 votes. 12,519 Newton voters decided they did not want to lose local ward representation—soundly rejecting the Charter Commission’s proposal to elect all city councilors at large. In fact, more people voted NO on the Charter than voted for Mayor-elect Fuller.
Over the summer and fall, I knocked on over 500 doors in Newton to educate voters about the Charter proposal and to make the case that Newton would be changed in ways we would regret forever if it went forward. Loud and clear was voter rejection of the at large council model at the ballot box. Voters do not want to lose their local voice. In my canvassing, some voters did say that they would favor a smaller council. That comes as no surprise. In 2000, in a non-binding referendum, Newton voters supported reducing the size of the Council two to one.
On Wednesday night, the Council began to discuss a home rule petition that would preserve local representation and also reduce the size of the council—an opportunity to follow the direction voters set on Tuesday. It proposes a Council with eight locally elected ward representatives and eight elected at-large with a residency requirement. It is referred to as the “eight and eight” proposal. This plan provides a way to satisfy voters’ desire for local representation and a smaller council. This model was favored by the League of Women Voters when they studied the issue in 1989 and continued to be the position of the LWV until 2010.
To my surprise, the Charter Commission showed up at City Hall in full force on Wednesday night to argue again for removing local representation. Speakers who had been in favor of the proposed charter argued that voters did not know what they were doing on Tuesday and that they did not understand the ballot. Essentially their argument is that the voters cannot be trusted.
This cynicism can only weaken our city and undermine democracy. Across the country, citizens are coming together to reinvigorate the electorate by making it easier to participate in public discourse and removing barriers to speaking through the ballot box. A group of people with a lot of money here in Newton is pushing hard to muffle local voices and to shrink accountability. That will move us in the opposite direction. Voters said NO.
There is another hearing on the eight and eight proposal at City Hall on Nov. 15 and a meeting of the entire Council on Dec. 4 to consider this proposal. I hope voters will come to City Hall to listen to the debate and will contact your Councilors to express support.
The 8 and 8 proposal has been studied. The voters have spoken. It’s time for the Council to act by supporting the eight and eight proposal. Elections have consequences.