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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Expanding Voter Participation

Tonight’s meeting of the City Council’s Rules Sub-Committee (1700 local) was quick, interesting and effective.  With all three members present, Chairman Bill Martin, and Councilors Rita Mercier and Joe Mendonca, they rolled right into the business at hand, which was looking at how to increase voter participation.  Chairman Bill Martin noted that they had met previously regarding motions by Councilor Patrick Murphy regarding these issues.  He then said to the citizens assembled, about a dozen or so, that the Sub-Committee was “Happy to hear from you.”

At this point Doctor Victoria Fahlberg gave her presentation on a Charter Commission.  A while back we had a Charter Commission that worked four items.  In 2009 we had a ballot initiative.  We looked at that and we looked at a Special Act Charter Review Commission.  We recommend the City Council appoint a Committee.  (A link to the draft of her presentation can be found at the bottom of this web page)

At the conclusion of Dr Fahlberg's presentation Councilor Mercier had a few questions.  After noting that she always welcomes participation she ask “what do you want?”

Victoria Fahlberg reviews what committee looks like and look at issues already presented—17year olds, districts and term limits.  She then notes that an up or down vote doesn't allow for enough discussion.  The Charter Committee would, with City Council permission, hold hearings and then recommend to the City Council possible changes to enhance voting.

Ms Mercier then asks if, with Plan E, can we just make up changes.

Ms Fahlberg says that with the 2009 ballot question we researched and found we could go forward. What people want is viable options.

Rita—Voters or everyone?
Rita—How long?
Victoria—Six months.
Rita—Full Council?
Victoria—Full Council decides.

Mr Mark Goldman then took us back in 1969, when we had a two year process and folks elected to it.  He notes that if we take this to a Charter Commission, there are other issues to be discussed.  There was a pause during Mr Goldman’s presentation, but it is quickly over and Mr Goldman completes his remarks.

Chairman Martin notes that a Charter Commission is not being proposed and asks if there are other Speakers?

Then it is discussion time on the Sub-Committee. Councilor Joe Mendonca notes that it is good to do this from time to time.  He notes that maybe do it via the neighborhood groups.

Mr Martin says that he has had a similar thought and wonders if there are seven active groups from which to form a committee.  He then adds that he is the Chair of Cable TV Subcommittee and getting an outside committee is not as easy a process as one might think. People see bias when you are just trying to fill slots.

Ms Fahlberg is allowed to speak and says “Those of us who signed are willing to serve.  Appointment lends the credibility of City Council.  Don't just close it off since there are others who might want to serve.” Mr Martin ask “How many?” Ms Fahlberg says the magic number is nine, so it is not unwieldy.

Ms Mercier says:  “I think this is a good idea, although there are aspects I might not agree with. Everybody has a right to participate and I admire that.”

Then there is a listing of the neighborhood groups (nine in all):
  • Acre
  • Highlands
  • Lower Highlands
  • Centralville
  • Pawtucketville
  • Belvedere
  • Sacred Heart and South Lowell (Riverside) combined
  • Downtown
  • Back Central
Taya Dixon-MullaneKathleen Marcin asked it could be a prime and alternate, to make the work load easier and Councilor Martin agrees.  Jack Mitchell asked about a member from the City Council, but the City Solicitor, Christine O’Conner suggested, when prompted that it might not be appropriate.

Reflecting the informality within the formality of the Sub-Committee meeting, Chairman Martin asked the assembled citizens if there was consensus and it was agreed there was.  He then made a motion to accept the proposal...Not limiting topics.  Councilor Mendonca noted that it would be made up of Neighborhood Groups and then seconded the motion.  While Councilor Mercier noted there was a motion on the floor, Councilor Martin slipped in that there would be a report from this committee to the City Council.  Then the City Clerk called the roll and it was three Yeas.

Councilor Mercier again noted that she admired the efforts of the people who will be doing this and reserved that she may not agree with all the ideas, to which Chairman Martin agreed.

Subsequently this evening this action was taken to the full City Council and approved.  So there you have it.  Citizens taking an interest in their City and things happening.

Errors in names and organizations are all on me and if you EMail me or call me I will fix them.

UPDATE:  I had one name wrong (so far).  I typed Taya Dixon-Mullane, but I should have typed Kathleen Marcin.  My apologies to both.

UPDATE:  Then someone pointed out I had spelled Centralville and Pawtucketville incorrectly.  In the first case I have a bit of an excuse, in that I have a son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren living in Centreville, VA.  So, there is some excuse for that.  As for the second, I thought I should have taken time to check the spelling, but I was in a rush and haste makes waste.

Regards  —  Cliff

1 comment:

Jack Mitchell said...

It was fun.