Why We Need A New Charter: Stronger Democracy

A summary of the revisions to the Northampton City Charter as explained by members of the Charter Review Committee.

On Election Day 2012, Tuesday November 6, Northampton voters will be given a separate ballot asking if we should ratify a new city charter — a new “constitution” — that was previously approved by the City Council.

We urge you to vote “Yes,” and we’ve established this blog to explain why.

We need a streamlined, flexible charter that is more accessible to the public. The current 129-year old charter is filled with archaic language that many find difficult to interpret and patchwork — sometimes contradictory — amendments that make the overall document hard to follow.

We want to strengthen the democratic process and improve how our local government functions. The new charter will increase the autonomy of the separate branches of government, and facilitate broader public participation.

To strengthen our democratic institutions, the new charter includes the following changes:

* Shift chairmanship of City Council meetings from the mayor to the City Council President

* Extend the term of mayor to four years

* Create a special election process to fill permanent mayoral vacancies

* Simplify School Committee elections so all terms run concurrently and last for two years

* Improve transparency by having Council-approved budgets break out the cost for both the compensation and benefits of elected officials

* Create an advisory commission to make recommendations on appropriate levels of compensation and benefits for elected officials

In the spirit of keeping what works, here are some of the key aspects of the current Charter that will remain the same:

* Maintain the Mayor as chair of the the School Committee

* Maintain the City Clerk as an elected position

* Maintain the current provisions for Citizen Initiatives and Referendums

* Keep out arbitrary term limits for all positions, elected and appointed

* Retain current process for mayoral appointments, subject to approval by the Council

Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily represent those of Northampton Community Television.

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