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