I just received an email from the Newtonville Area Council saying “The Charter Commission appears inclined to eliminate Area Councils from the revised Newton Charter.“.

I know that the Charter Commission’s mission is to review the entire charter, and Area Councils are part of that.   What I don’t know is if the Commission is indeed “inclined to eliminate” them.

I know a few Commission members are V14 regulars so maybe you can pitch in with more information.  Has the commission taken a straw vote yet regarding Area Councils?  Is there indeed a substantial likelihood that the commission may recommend eliminating the Area Councils?

If so, I’d find that a bit alarming.  I live in Upper Falls where we have an Area Council.  In my eyes the council has been nothing but a positive force in our neighborhood.  The councils have no true legal authority or power but they serve as an important forum for the neighborhood residents on a whole range of issues.  In our neighborhood the Upper Falls Area Council was a prime force in helping get the Upper Falls Greenway built, in organizing the annual Village Day, and in sorting out all manners of minor but annoying issues for local residents (parking, construction, crosswalks, etc).  It’s the only forum in the city for a regular resident to be able to show up at a regularly scheduled meeting and raise any local issue to the city government – that’s a big deal.

Ironically, it was the city’s Area Councils that hosted the only candidate forum for the Charter Commission candidates in their recent election.

In part because the Area Council’s have no statutory legal power, I would find it extremely disturbing if the commission were considering eliminating them.  Their only role is to provide a local voice to local residents to the city government.  The only reason I can think of to eliminate them is for the city to be able to ignore those local voices – definitely not a healthy goal.

I’ve also heard (3rd hand) that at a recent Commission meeting on the topic, a representative of the City’s Election Commission spoke about how difficult it was administratively to oversee the Area Council’s election.  I sincerely hope that the Commission would not in any way take that commentary into account when making decisions about the existence of Area Councils.  The job of the Election Commission is to oversee the city’s elections.  I’m sure all elections are difficult to oversee but that’s not pertinent to whether we hold them or not.

If the Commission is indeed “inclined to eliminate” Area Councils and we already know they are “inclined to eliminate” Ward Councilors from their earlier straw vote, I’d take those two together as a concerted effort to centralize decision making and stifle local voices – something I’d be be dead set against.

My apologies in advance if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick here, and have any facts wrong.  I’m posting this based on just a bit of fragmentary knowledge and have not attended any of the Commission meetings.   If I’m way off base on any of this please feel free to correct me and I’ll be happy to eat some crow – I’m pretty good at it after many years of experience 😉

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