Greetings,

This newsletter is longer than usual - but the charter commission vote is worthy of spending some time on.

Charter Commission Votes to Eliminate Ward Councilors
The Charter Commission is a group of nine people elected last November to review our City’s charter and make recommendations for changes. Last week they took a straw vote to eliminate ward councilors – that is, my seat. They would reduce the total number of councilors to 13, and make them all at-large. 8 would be elected from each ward and 5 would be elected from anywhere in the city.
 
As I told the Tab, I think this is a really terrible idea. (And the Tab editor agrees.) The value of the ward councilor is that a resident knows there is someone on the City Council who is hyper-vigilant for their interests. The ward councilor is often the first stop when a resident is concerned about an issue and either doesn’t know how to contact City Hall -- or has tried contacting City Hall but not gotten a response. Some issues are small - a street lamp out, or a metal plate left by National Grid. Some are large, such as special permits (Austin Street, Orr Building) or the new Cabot School. People in Ward 2 know that there is someone elected only by them, accountable only to them, and that concept is pretty central to our notion of democracy. Note that State Reps. Kay Khan and Ruth Balser are elected only by Newton residents, not statewide. Joe Kennedy is elected only by residents of the 4th District, he is not elected by the entire country.

The City Council could be reduced in size but maintain ward councilors--the City of Boston, for example, has 13 councilors, with 9 elected from within the district, and 4 elected at-large.
 
Do at-large councilors help with constituent issues? Of course. But they are not particularly beholden to any area of the City the way ward councilors are; in theory they can still win an election without winning their own ward.
 
Why is the Charter commission recommending this change? One Charter Commissioner claimed, “Making the job at-large makes the person accountable to the whole city while also representing the ward.” Another posted to the Village 14 blog, “elected officials who make decisions that affect the entire city need to be accountable to the voters in the entire city.” Ruth Balser and Kay Khan make decisions that affect the whole state, yet are only elected from Newton. Joe Kennedy gets to vote on issues that affect the country, yet is only elected from the Mass. 4th District. That is our system, for a reason—so that the interests of local voters are of special concern to at least one elected official.
 
Another commenter on the Village 14 blog implied she supported eliminating ward councilors so it would be easier to get high density projects approved. “The Austin Street debate made me think, for the first time, that the ward councillor position undermines the greater interests of the city.”
 
And that, frankly, is what I think this effort is really about. We know there are strong opinions on all sides about whether Newton should build more high density apartment buildings in various places around the City. But is it really appropriate to change our system of governance, and reduce accountability, in order to bring about a policy change favored by some?
 
(And for the record, I thought the Austin Street project was bad for Newtonville AND bad for the City… here are my remarks the night of the vote. For example, the project will lose money, and it demonstrated complete disregard for our small business community.)
 
I don't plan on being a lifer on the City Council, so this isn't about job security for me. This is about the power of your voice on Newton's city government. I'll have more to say in coming newsletters about why if we want city councilors who will be independent thinkers, if we want competitive races, we should maintain the ward councilor seats.

All the voters will get to vote on the Charter Commission proposal in November 2017. If you are interested in saving the Ward Councilor seats, please send me an email.
 
Cabot School
A review is underway of the proposed site plan for the new renovated Cabot Elementary School. The March acquisition of the 23 Parkview Street property has opened up the possibility of placing the gym on the North side of the school, rather than the current proposed location on the Southeast corner. This would preserve the historical façade and have other benefits. Note at this time there is no reason to believe this review will jeopardize MSBA funding -- if it did, I wouldn't support it. More details will be available soon. The next meeting of the Cabot School Building Committee will be posted here.
 
NewtonServes May 1
Newton’s annual day of community service is Sunday, May 1. This is a great opportunity to get outside, meet new people and make our corner of the world a better place. Click here for more details and to register. 
 
Meeting May 1: West Newton Hill Considers Local Historic District
An exploratory group is in the very early stages of looking at whether residents of historic areas on West Newton Hill would be interested to have their streets included in a study for a possible Local Historic District. A Local Historic District is one way to prevent demolitions of historically significant homes, while also involving some restrictions on homeowners if they are in the district.  The West Newton Hill area could potentially include some streets within Ward 2 such as Lenox, Balcarres, and Sylvan and the upper parts of Otis, Valentine and Highland Streets.  A community meeting will be held at Second Church, 60 Highland St at 4 pm on Sunday May 1st to provide more information, answer questions and hear comments.  Professor Daniel Bluestone who directs the Preservation Studies program at Boston University will be joining the meeting. For more information see www.wnhpreservation.org.

Meeting April 28: Newtonville Ave Storage Facility
A storage facility has been proposed for 255-257 Newtonville Ave, an area currently zoned for manufacturing. The Land Use Committee will be conducting a site visit on Thursday, April 28th at 8:00a.m. to review the storage facility petition. The site visit is open to the public.
 
Office Hours
My office hours take place the last Friday of the month, 9-10am, at the Newton Senior Center, 345 Walnut St. in Newtonville. I will be there this Friday, hope to see you there.

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Contact Emily

Email: emily@emilynorton.org

Phone:  617-795-0362
Cell:  508-397-6839

www.emilynorton.org

Councilor Emily Norton
58 Prescott Street
Newton, Massachusetts 02460

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