From My Corner: February 15, 2021

Another City Council trick

The Lawrence City Council will be discussing at their next meeting on February 16, some changes to the City Charter.  This is the constitution, the Bible, the rules that we should be going by, and that none of the councilors ever reads or knows its content.

Among the changes proposed this time, are the term of office for city councilors (district and at-Large) which took me by surprise because I had no idea that anyone was working on changes.

They are confident that the dirty trick imposed on the residents by canceling the special election through a Home Rule Petition went well for them and are venturing on something bigger.  I don’t even think the judge read my material because she didn’t answer accordingly.

Thanks to my attorney friends here and in other cities who educate me, I can bring the results of my findings.  I hope the councilors learn as well.

The proposed amendment to the term of office of the At-large Councilors is an amendment reserved only to an elected Charter Commission in accord with G.L. c. 43B, secs. 6 and 10.  The term of office of the City legislative body is required to be advanced by a Charter Commission and not by Home Rule Petition – and if adopted by the City Council and Mayor it is subject to the approval of the Attorney General and the Department of Housing and Development.

We need to form a Charter Commission consisting of 9 members elected by the voters unless there’s a statute that allows them to do it; I have not been able to find if there’s one but I will.  Changes to the City Charter of Lawrence should follow the state laws and Constitution – even during a pandemic.

Right now, the city has a subcommittee called the Charter Review Committee which is not the same.  The Charter is clear about this; you cannot delegate statutory duties to a council subcommittee when the statute specifically authorizes the way a City Charter is amended.

Part of this imposition will be that those district councilors are limited to serve two terms of two years each for a total of four years.  At-Large will be limited to serve two terms also but of four years each for a total of eight years.  One of the clauses in the Charter says that only elected officials serving four-year terms are subject to recall which now they are not.

Sometimes I think that councilors are not much more than paper-pushers.  Take a look at the number of ordinances they issue each year that are soon forgotten.  I believe they create them in case they are needed someday to throw the book at someone when desired, not to make Lawrence better.

The same will happen with these changes.  Overall, the amendments place more responsibilities on an already overburdened Election Department, mostly by extending recalls to the new four-year Councilor at-Large offices; expanding recalls will generate more recalls.  That alone will crush the election duties especially with the added duties of a permanent vote by mail requirements soon to be approved by the State.  Do you see where I’m going?

The City Council has no idea the effect this measure will have on that department.  Hopefully, the proponents of the amendments have a plan in place to administer the extensive requirements seemingly “dumped” on elections staff without any such consideration.

Unless an Election Commission with sufficient staff is put into place, there will likely be a further exodus from election personnel.  For many years the City Clerk Bill Maloney had been crying out for the need for additional staff in those two offices and no one listened until he had enough and retired.  Now, there’s real turmoil created by the wisdom of those inept politicians who can’t see beyond the papers in front of them.

During the last elections, I remember talking to him about the convenience of mailing voting and he explained the pressure and expense it placed on his office and staff.  Nobody cares!

But I digressed.

The proposed amendment to the term of office of the At-Large Council Members does not follow G.L. c. 43B, sec. 10 of the State Constitution.

If they care about the community they are supposed to serve, ask them to meet in the Council Chamber, in person, where we can see them during public participation and on television instead of the hideous system under which they are hiding.

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