charter change options are presented, but the public clamor is not yet there
WORCESTER – It’s an overstatement to say the brief back-and-forth on the city charter last week set the stage for a more serious and ongoing discussion about the prospect of refining the city’s instruction manual.
But if the city council and the voters agree, it may be time to update the charter to reflect certain realities, namely the composition of the council itself.
The city charter essentially defines who does what and how they do it. It details how long elected officials serve, how they are elected or appointed, the budget process and a host of other details.
General Counsel Morris A. Bergman recently filed an order asking City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. to consider creating a charter review process in 2022. By the time it was voted on Tuesday, it had turned into a request for legal advice after other advisers expressed some confusion as to what Bergman was asking for.
District 3 Councilman George Russell said he understood the charter change was a matter for council or a citizens’ petition, and requested a report from the attorney’s office. District 1 Councilor Sean Rose said that was also his understanding, and General Councilor Khrystian King said he did not want the council to appear to delegate its responsibilities to the city manager.
Bergman said last week he wanted to be clear that his request had nothing to do with the review of “strong mayor” pressures that have defined pushes for charter change over the past few decades.
Thoughtful School Committee Template
But the clear undercurrent of any charter change discussion unfolding this year will be the prospect of scrapping the current five-district/major-six city council structure in favor of a model aligned with the school committee system at six districts that will replace this council are fully configured in time for the 2023 municipal elections.
Bergman said the way the city undertook to amend the charter changing the way the school board is elected—to satisfy the requirements of a consent decree to settle a lawsuit alleging Voting Rights Act violations—was the exception to the general rule of changing the charter, that it should include a popular vote.
So what does the charter actually say about changing it? Very little, in fact – the entire process is governed by state law. Specifically, Section 89 of the state constitution, known as the Home Rule Amendment, outlines three options for amending a charter:
• The first and most comprehensive option is a voter-driven process. If 15% of legal voters call for the “pass or revise” of a charter, it triggers a series of events including a city-wide referendum, the creation of an elected charter commission of nine members and a subsequent citywide vote to approve whatever the commission proposes.
This is the process that unfolded in the 1980s, when voters approved changes to the charter that, among other things, gave us the five districts/six city councils we have now (this used to be of a general council), and transferred the election of the mayor of the council to the voters. This method of amending the charter allows the commission to propose wholesale changes to the document, subject to final voter approval.
• The second way to amend a charter under state law is to vote by a two-thirds majority of the city council, but there are caveats. Amendments to the charter using this method require “the assent of the mayor in each city that has a mayor”, and they cannot in any way alter the charter regarding composition, mode of election or appointment, or term. term of office of elected officials. It would preclude any attempt to move the council to six districts and disqualify another idea advanced by Bergman – changing council terms to three years from the current two. Additionally, any changes proposed using this option would be subject to the same city-wide voting process set out in the first option.
• The third way to amend a charter is to file a formal petition in the Legislative Assembly. If approved by the Legislative Assembly, the “Special Act” effectively amends a charter. This is the route taken by the city in the consent decree from the school board lawsuit. Last month, the board voted to send a Bylaws petition to the Legislative Assembly which, if approved, will amend the charter to include a school board composition of six district members, two at-large members and the mayor. .
If this talk of charter change picks up steam, voters could have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make sweeping changes to how this city works. But so far, the public fervor and political organizing that typically drives a charter change has simply not materialized.
Tax title property will become affordable housing
The city is offer a house for sale at 17 Lodi St. He took the house by tax title a few years ago and recently put out a tender for the single-family home on a small plot near Crompton Park.
The city is looking for a “developer/buyer” to redevelop the property, provided it remains a single-family home and is sold to a qualified first-time buyer who earns no more than 80% of the area’s median income.
The sale price will be capped at $290,000 and the home must have been owner-occupied for at least 10 years. Any future sales during the 10-year period the restrictions are in effect must be at or below the city’s median sale price, according to the tender document.
The application document notes that the city’s housing rehabilitation programs may be able to help finance rehabilitation and help with the down payment for the purchase of a first home.
The city acquired the house, which was built in 1890, by tax title in 2019.
Contact Steven H. Foskett Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SteveFoskettTG