Last year I mentioned Jack and the Charter changers often. It is a group that is interested in looking at the city charter and offering suggestions to maybe change some aspects of the charter.
In the wake of John MacDonald’s letter to the Editor and Kendal Wallace’s Saturday Chat I thought I would ask fellow blogger and Charter change proponent Jack Mitchell about the Charter Review Committee that the City Council authorized last year.
1) Are the neighborhood groups going to activate the Charter Review Committee that the council appointed last year? I can’t say for sure, but I hope that they do. Back in March, we asked the City Council for the privilege of reviewing the Charter. They respected our wish. I feel we should repay respect with respect and complete ‘our Charter.’ Pardon the pun.
2) Why a review instead of a formal Charter Commission? The simple answer is a “Review” is not micromanaged by MGL. A Charter Commission, for a city our size, is provided a $10,000 stipend, at least, by the city. As taxpayer’s money is utilized, the law is very specific about the ‘hows’ and ‘whens’, of the ‘to do’ list.
Also, the Charter Commission is empowered to throw our Charter out and start from scratch, if I read the law correctly. I’ve heard many things in my travels. I haven’t heard a strong desire to do that.
A Charter Review Committee can open the entire Charter, look to see if parts don’t make sense or need to be tweaked for 2012 and on. Citizens collaborating with our Councilors should make for a more relaxed, inclusive and comprehensive review. Let me be clear, the CRC will make recommendations to the City Council, through the Rules Subcommittee. It could all be for nothing. However, the City Council would be under the watchful eyes of all of Lowell. It is unlikely they would toss the recommendations aside.
3) What exactly can the review committee do?
From the Mass.gov website:
Periodic Review of the Charter by a Charter Review Committee
Once a community has a charter, there is often a provision for the periodic appointment of a charter review committee. The committee undertakes an examination to determine the charter’s ongoing utility and accuracy. Such committees do NOT have the powers, duties, and responsibilities of an elected charter commission. Such committees are formed to review the charter and to make recommendations to its appointing body (e.g., board of selectmen, city council) regarding the need for additions, deletions, clarifications, or other amendments that would improve the charter.
The term for such an advisory committee is usually one year. Recommendations of the committee may take the form of a proposed special act or a proposed charter amendment, but the local legislative body must act upon the recommendations before they take effect. The committee may also find, for example, that the charter’s intent is clear, but related bylaws or ordinances may need clarification. The role of such committees can be important in assuring that the charter is working as intended, but the charter review committee has no assigned role in achieving any change beyond its recommendation to its appointing body
4) How can someone (like John MacDonald) get involved ? Can a neighborhood group select him to be there representative?
Each neighborhood group is left to their own devices to provide participants to the CRC. Anyone interested in engaging should contact their local group. (See the list below) Some, if not most groups, had people picked. But, that was back in April/May of 2011. Those who were interested back then, may not be now. For instance, CNAG had referred Lu Richards and me to the City Clerk, originally. Lu is now CNAG President, so will not participate in the CRC. (IF it stands back up) CNAG will be looking for another one of our neighbors to engage, if needed.
5) How many groups compromise this committee?
Nine groups, by my count.
From the Minutes of the March 8, 2011 City Council meeting:
C. Martin said it was determined that the groups who consist of the Acre Action Group, Back Central Neighborhood Association, the Belvidere Neighborhood Council, the Centralville Neighborhood Action Group, the Highlands Circle Group the Lowell Downtown Neighborhood Association, the Lower Highlands Neighborhood Group, the Pawtucketville Citizens Council and the Sacred Heart Neighborhood Improvement Group/Riverside Community Council would have one member from each group as well as one alternate. C. Martin said the groups would select their membership and submit the names to the City Clerk to be forwarded to the City Council for action.
Finally, here is the clip for the March 8, 2011 City Council meeting. Between 46:09 – 56:17, you can watch the Council discuss the matter and then vote, unanimously in favor.
I am a board member of CNAG and truly value what neighborhood leaders contribute to the civics of Lowell. The City Council trusted us to do this and I think it is vital we fulfill the deal we made with them.