By Josh Krintzman
The city “charter” is like the city’s constitution. It lays out the form of government, the size of the city council and school committee, the terms of office for various offices and whether there are term limits on any offices. It also establishes and defines the responsibilities of the various departments, agencies and offices in the city. For example, the charter might determine which board grants a special permit to a new business owner.
Last year the city of Newton established a charter commission, which is currently evaluating and recommending changes to the Newton city charter. The commission has until next May to submit its final report, which will likely be in the form of a revised charter. Any proposed re-write of the charter will then go before Newton voters in November of 2017 for an up or down vote. If approved, the charter will take effect as specified in the new text.
That timeline means that now, while the commission is deliberating, is the time for residents and business owners take an interest and get involved.
If you want to know who may be responsible for deciding whether your business may obtain a special permit for the updates required to make your business successful – start paying attention!
If you want to know whether the mayor is likely to have more or less power under a new charter – start paying attention! If you want to know how many people will comprise the city council in the future – start paying attention!
Fully realizing that not every issue is important to every person, surely there is some aspect of city government that impacts your life. And this is an opportunity to help shape that component of the charter. At a minimum, you’re going to need to know where to direct your bribery efforts so that you get the most bang for your buck. (That’s a joke. Please don’t break the law. Ever.)
The charter commission has:
- 1.Published its entire anticipated schedule on the city’s webpage and updates that schedule every time it is amended or events are added;
- 2.Established multiple lines of communication with Newton residents including: an email distribution list, social media accounts, and a webpage with all documents used by the commission, minutes of all meetings, audio recordings of all meetings and working drafts of charter articles;
- 3.Set aside 20 minutes at the start of every meeting for public comments;
- 4.Held public hearings with invited guests as well as public hearings open to any speaker; and
- 5.Committed to additional public hearings throughout this process and after it has released drafts of key articles enabling residents to respond to draft recommendations while there is still time for revision.
In fact, the commission has made clear that due to the interconnections between various articles of the charter, the commission does not consider any of its recommended changes to be final until it has finished all articles and reviewed them collectively.
Among recommendations currently approved by the commission are:
- Removing the words “candidate for re-election” next to incumbents’ names on municipal ballots;
- Filling a vacancy in the office of the mayor during the final nine months of the term by making the City Council President the Acting Mayor;
- Adopting an enhanced conflict of interest provision prohibiting elected officials from inappropriately interfering in the work of city employees; and
- Creating a regular review of the city charter every 10 years.
All of the information mentioned above, and lots more, is available at www.newtonma.gov/charter.
As chair of the charter commission, I encourage you to follow our work and to reach out to us with any thoughts, ideas or comments that you might have. Citizen engagement is crucial to the success of improving our charter. I look forward to hearing from you!
Josh Krintzman is chair of the Newton Charter Commission. Residents and business owners may share their opinions with the charter commission at the email address CharterCommission@newtonma.gov , during the public comment period at charter commission meetings, or during a public hearing.