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 Without our support, he would no longer represent us.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