City of Northampton Hosts Constitutional Convention, Day One: Video
NORTHAMPTON — Should the city clerk be elected or appointed? Should elected officials be subject to term limits? Are the two-year terms for mayor and city council too short? Should city councilors be paid more than the $5,000 yearly stipend they now receive?
These are some of the questions addressed at a public forum held by the Special Act Charter Drafting Committee, whose charge is to re-write the city’s governing document. The drafting committee was formed after a decennial charter review committee recommended a complete overhaul of the document, which dates from 1888.
The forum, held Tuesday at Council Chambers, featured testimony from the city’s leading lights, past and past and present, as well as a collection of citizen activists and active citizens.
Former Mayor Mary Ford spoke, as did former city councilors Alex Ghiselin and Bill Ames; councilors Maureen Carney, Jesse Adams, Owen Freeman-Daniels, Gene Tacy and Marianne LaBarge, and At-large councilor-elect Bill Dwight.
Video Courtesy Northampton Community Television
Wendy Foxmyn, a seasoned town administrator who lives in the city, suggested a three-year term for the mayor’s post and spoke in favor of term limits. But Foxmyn was outnumbered in that sentiment. Most who spoke, including Dwight, opposed term limits.
Many speakers cited the need for a better balance of power between the mayor and the city council. City resident Jeff Mossimino said that under former Mayor Clare Higgins the council had been “bobble heads.”
Ghiselin said that better leadership from the city council is necessary when a strong mayor such as Higgins is in the corner office.
Support was strong for having the council president, not the mayor, chair City Council and School Committee meetings, but Realtor Patrick Goggins, who led the council under Ford, said the downside might be a “wicked council president fight” every two years, with repercussions throughout the term. Goggins said he’d support anything that retained stability within city government.
“The stability we’ve been able to enjoy as a community… has gone a long way in making this community what it is,” said Goggins, citing the lengthy tenancies of former mayors David Musante, Ford, and Higgins.
Neither twice-failed mayoral candidate Michael Bardsley nor mayor-elect David Narkewicz were in attendance, but Bardsley’s campaign manager Mimi Odgers spoke several times, calling for term limits and saying that low-income people aren’t well represented in local government. That sentiment was echoed by Jesus Leyva, a social justice activist in the city.
Odgers and Leyva suggested that better compensation and benefits for councilors might encourage more people of limited means to run, but Foxmyn and others said that nobody should run for City Council just so they can get a salary and health insurance.
City Clerk Wendy Mazza, who’s held that position for 30 years, stepped to the microphone toward the end of the evening to say that the clerk should continue to be an elected position, and not be nominated by the mayor or city council.
Mazza said keeping her job as an elected position “avoids the cronyism or politics of having a city clerk appointed by the mayor or city council.”
The nine-member Special Act Charter Drafting Committee hopes to issue its report by January; the mayor and city council will then advance the draft charter to Beacon Hill for approval by the legislature and governor. Ultimately voters will get to decide whether to adopt the new charter or not. If all goes according to schedule, the Secretary of State will put the question on the Nov. 2012 ballot.
The next public forum on the city’s charter will be held Dec. 6; all citizens interested in local democracy are invited to attend.
Visit the city’s website at www.northamptonma.gov for more information.