Exploring Charter Change and Ward Representation in Medford

Now that the elections are over for the next couple years, the topics of Charter Change and Ward Representation seem to be hot topics that keep coming up.

I have to be honest – I’ve been following local politics for quite a while, but over 25 years under the same form of government in Medford leaves me much to understand on what the differences are. Quite frankly – I‘m sure there are folks out there much more familiar on the topics than I am. What do I know - I’m Just a Medford Guy.

So here’s what I think I know under the current form of government in Medford:

This form has a strong Mayor that basically makes all decisions – almost regardless of what the City Council does, requests and proposes.

All City Councilors are elected “At Large” and do not represent a specific “Ward” (or area of the city).

I respectfully request to posters of this blog to honestly give a PRO and a CON on any feedback you may be aware of when warranted.

My sense on Ward Representation:

PROS:  A person can run for City Council much more effectively when given a small portion of the City to represent.  It may be more cost effective for someone to run for City Council when they can narrow down the area of constituents.

CONS:  Once elected, it may be extremely hard for another in that Ward (community) to knock off an incumbent.  In my view, it might become extremely frustrating to get major issues resolved in certain parts of the City (say Wellington) if for instance a new Casino gets the approvals in Everett. That would be under the purview of that Ward – so people in South Medford, or West Medford, or other “Wards” besides Wellington might not get the representation they expect.

Above all – it looks like the power the Mayor has under the current form of government is the frustration point. Seemingly, nothing gets done in many people’s perspectives (although I am a supporter of Mayor McGlynn – and I think he does a great job. Quite honestly, I feel the work he does is “behind the scenes” and not brought to the forefront and shared for all to see the fruits of his labor.

The next question would be:

What would be the next step to even explore exercising the option of these changes?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Arthur DeLuca January 15, 2014 at 07:04 PM
I'd say your observations are spot on. There is one piece of this however that you have NOT mentioned; the reality of there being NO real Mayor under Plan E. The pol with the title of Mayor was in reality merely the City Council President with, I believe, no more power than the current City Council president structure. This is where the notion that the mayor should be present at City Council meetings comes from. Well of course the Plan E mayor should be in attendence - that's the council President. They need to be there to conduct the meeting. Additionally, there was a Deputy Mayor; the current City Council vice president position under that alias. The Plan E version of our Plan A mayor was the City Manager. This was not an elected seat but rather a "hired' position picked by the City Council. The residents had no say in or control over the person who actually made the decisions on how Medford ran (talk about a dictatorship!) Although he/she was independent of the City Council on paper, the reality of it was that since the Council hired him (and could fire him), he was under the control of the will of the Council. Under this plan there was NO system of checks and balances; the City Council ruled the City. I say "ruled" rather than "ran" because of the dozen or so Council Meetings I've seen on old videotapes, this is the capsule summary description that best fits the way I saw them behave. The Council took to granting businesses in general and contractors in particular, boons and favors over the objections of the public residents. It got so bad that the "peasants revolted", getting signatures to put the charter change on the ballot and eventually won out to convert Medford to Plan A. I remember none of this personally, even though I was of voting age and voted at the time. All of these observations come from my past ten years of watching tapes of the old City Council meetings and the various debates and such from Medford Live and similar local programs.
Arthur DeLuca January 15, 2014 at 07:11 PM
On a second level (and hence my second post) from the perspective of a voter, currently I can vote for my choice to fill each and every one of the seven City Council Seats. With a charter change to ward representation, I would give up most of that aboiltity. I'd be reduced to being able to vote for only ONE seat, the one in my ward; or if a mix of ward & at large, I woud give up some of thos seven viotes. I'd have less control; have less say in how Medford is run. Why should ANY resident want to cede any of that power to control their own destiny? To my eyes, this whole present debate boils down to some people who do not want Mike McGlynn being in office, and are unable to find a candidate to defeat him; trying to come up with a way to circumvent the will of the people who voted for the charter change to plan A and who DO want Mike McGlynn in office.
Ron Swanson January 15, 2014 at 07:40 PM
Pros: Easier for residents to run for office and serve the community. More focused attention to specific areas of the city (since our areas are so diverse and have different needs, could be a huge benefit).----------------------------------Cons: Wouldn't get to vote for the entire council. Detrimental if two or more great candidates live in the same ward and a 'lessor' candidate gets elected in a different ward due to weak competition. Perhaps the big picture of the city is overlooked if the council has tunnel vision for their respective wards (although a Councillor At Large position could help).-------------------------------------I am actually for the change. Like I said, there is such a noticeable difference among our neighborhoods that a Councillor devoted to each one would be great. As for Arthur's concern about the Mayor being to weak and or chosen by the Council instead of the voters, seems like a false choice. That might be the structure in some cities, however, Somerville has ward representation and wouldn't say Curtatone has no power and wasn't elected by the residents. Clearly different options exist with regards to the charter (not the this or that Arthur presented).
Arthur DeLuca January 15, 2014 at 11:51 PM
Good points, Ron. Maybe I should have asked first, does a charter change go hand in hand with a change in the Plan of Government? As long as the mayor is still elected by the people, then just a change to a council at large/ward representation mix wouldn't be as bad. *************************************************************************************************************** Something else neither of us has mentiond is that Ward representation does not come with a split of City funds into 7 equal parts. All seven councilors still get to approve or deny what is spent where. Even though someone represents your ward; even though the need may be great for that ward; the money available to run the City is for ALL the City, not just that ward. So if 4 other councilors feel their project is more important and that if your ward project passes, they won't have the money for their ward's project; they will still vote the project down. It all comes down to the seven members of the City Council co-operatiing with one another rather than fighting one another. If we have 7 council members who CAN work for the City as a whole, not fight, not bow to special interests (and satisfying the need of your ward is a special interest - your ward's 1/7th vs the rest of the City's 6/7ths); then the City will be fine - we won't need the "safety" of ward representation. As you have said, with ward rep, it's harder to get rid of a bad councilor. They could be horrendous for 6/7ths of the City but great for their ward; and so they would stay in office. Ward rep increases the chances you'll get this kind of politician in office - it's a divide-and-conquer mindset. From last night's Council meeting it appears this year we just MAY get that Council co-operation after all. Finally in 2014 it looks like we have a Council that's actually functioning as a Plan A City Council should. So while we study the City's charter; let's also study this change in the Council. We may just find it works after all; when ALL co-operate toward the common goal of operating the government in the manner (Plan A) the People have voted/ordered them to. I have a feeling about 2014; it's going to be a good year all around for Medford; much better than 2013 was.
Arthur DeLuca January 16, 2014 at 12:06 AM
One last point (unless I think of another). To date, the only people I've heard speak about wanting a charter change or wanting to "explore" a charter change, have been ones who when you talk to them at length about it, you realize that want they actually want is NOT a change, but rather a RETURN to Plan E. Oh, they may say "not necessarily, it could be something else"; but the unspoken conclusion to their statement is "but it won't be something else. I want Plan E." I'm not including you in this statement, Ron. I'm talking about the people who have come to the podium at City Council meetings and the councilors who have spoken from behind the rail. The last attempt to get signatures through a few years ago was such an 11th hour rush that I could see how a small group of prior-prepared people (as in the ones pushing for the signatures) could easily end up being the only ones able to get enough signatures to get their names on the ballot to be elected to the charter commission. You control the commision, you control the charter change that's crafted. The currecnt process is too subject to manipulation for my tastes.
Katy Vitiello January 17, 2014 at 07:34 AM
from Chapter 43 of the Massachusetts Laws: “Plan A”, a city government and legislative body composed of the mayor and a city council, the councillors being elected at large. “Plan B”, a city government and legislative body composed of a mayor and city council, the councillors being elected partly at large and partly from districts or wards of the city. “Plan C”, a city government and legislative body composed of a mayor and commissioners as hereinafter specified. “Plan D”, a city government and legislative body, to be known as the city council, composed of seven or nine members, one of whom shall be mayor and shall be the official head of the city, and an administrative officer, called the city manager. “Plan E”, a city government and legislative body, to be known as the city council, composed of seven or nine members, one of whom shall be elected as mayor by and from such members and shall be the official head of the city, and an administrative officer, called the city manager; the members of the city council and the elective members of the school committee to be elected at large by proportional representation. “Plan F”, a city government and legislative body composed of a mayor and a city council, the councillors being elected partly at large and partly from wards of the city, with the mayor and city councillors to be nominated in party primaries.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something