How would these questions get answered today?

Every once in awhile you hear people talking about either changing the way we elect City Councilor’s or changing from. city Manager to a strong mayor.

Looking up the attempted changes in Lowell’s history, Dick Howe reminded me of 4 questions that were asked the voters in a non-binding ballot question back in the early 1990’s.

In 1993, there were four non-binding questions on the ballot: Here they are along with the results

• Question 1 – Do you support keeping the present Plan E form of government? Yes-8,234. No-8,779.

• Question 2 – Do you support a change in the city charter to provide for an elected mayor as chief executive instead of an appointed city manager? Yes-10,0441. No-6,760.

• Question 3 – Do you support a charter change that would provide for district councilors instead of elections at large? Yes-6,841. No-9,213.

• Question 4 – Do you support a limit on terms of all elected officials in the city of Lowell to a maximum of 4 two-year terms in office? Yes-11,946. No-5,093.

Dick’s post informs us: Nothing ever came of any of these questions, probably because that year also saw the election of six new city councilors, a transition that completely changed the city’s direction.

Dick also reminded us in a couple November 2010 Post on his website about the history of attempted Charter Change:

The city adopted Plan E in 1944 which consisted of a city manager, 9 city councilors elected at large, and 6 school committee members elected at large – essentially the system we have today EXCEPT the council election used proportional representation, the voting method that requires voters to rate their candidates 1 through 9. A complex formula that tabulates all the #1 votes, then all the #2 votes, and so on, is used to decide the victors. (This is the system that the 2009 referendum sought to enact).

A major change occurred in 1957 when the city discontinued proportional voting in favor of “plurality voting” which is the system we have now – one vote counts for one vote with no weighting involved.

In the late 1960s, a charter commission was elected. That group proposed a change to a “strong mayor” form of government but the voters rejected that in the 1971 election by a 2 to 1 margin. I remember that the election of charter commission members was a hotly contested race with many prominent citizens winning election and serving. (Beyond the election and the personalities, I’m fuzzy as to the when, what, where, how and why; so more research is called for on that topic). The defeat of the charter change by such an overwhelming margin seemed to suppress the reform impulse for a couple of decades.

The only subsequent attempts to alter the charter by way of the ballot box were the four non-binding questions in 1993 and the proportional representation referendum from 2009

Based on the questions above and the decreasing turnout for Municipal Elections , I wonder how these questions would get answered today and if this Council or the next have any appetite to propose a Charter Commission in the next year?

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