Reforming the City’s Charter – February, 2008

February 25, 2008

Over the last several years, Somerville has made impressive gains in improving the quality of city services. SomerStat, the One Call to City Hall program, Connect CTY and ResiStat are all cutting-edge tools that have significantly created new efficiencies in the delivery of city services. Mayor Curtatone’s call for an examination of the city charter is another example of the Mayor’s effort to model a model city government. Mayor Curtatone’s eye toward innovation and efficiency, will, I believe, help the city during this continuing economic downturn.

Having a city manager, or chief operating officer, would further modernize our city’s government. Like all cities, Somerville is complex. There are a lot of moving parts. It is unrealistic, and inefficient, to have one person – the Mayor – responsible for both setting and implementing the city’s agenda. Our current structure – where everything crosses the chief executive officer’s desk, will, in the long run, hold us back. As the demands of our times continue to increase, this flaw in the city’s structure will hold us back, and may cause us to miss opportunities.

The Charter Advisory Committee is also considering changing the name of the city’s representative body to City Council. This small name change, from Board of Alderman to City Council is a little thing that means a lot. No longer will we have to stubble over what to call Mss. Heuston and Gewirtz. Alderwoman Heuston? Alderman Rebekah? Councilor is a nice, one-size fits all salutation that is neither awkward or potentially offensive.

Encouraging voter participation and people’s involvement is one of the guiding principals of this Charter Advisory Committee. As the results of our most recent national election so dramatically demonstrates, voters get involved when they believe that their voice will be heard. Citizens become engaged when they believe that what they do will make a difference. Towards this end, a forward looking city charter should significantly enhance the powers and responsibilities of our most representative body as it changes from Board of Alderman to City Council. A strong city council would provide an open setting for meaningful discussion of issues we face as a community. A strong city council would also provide the checks and balances needed to insure open and transparent government. To do otherwise potentially undermines our well-earned reputation as a progressive city.

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