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.