Students, faculty weigh in on city charter vote


Rose Skylstad

In addition to voting for a Mayoral candidate in tomorrow’s election, Newton residents will decide ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a newly proposed city charter which would impact the size of Newton’s city council.
The proposed change to the city’s charter would reduce the council from 24 members to 12, removing the positions of individual ward councilors. In addition, the new charter would establish term limits of 16 years on councilor seats and would be reviewed every ten years for revision.
“I myself am against the change because it eliminates the individual voices of each village,” said sophomore Dian Dian Jonas-Walsh.
Jonas-Walsh said that the system of ward-specific councilors provides “representation and accountability” that would be lost with the new charter. “People need to be heard, and have people there to listen. The charter proposal would not allow people the same voice,” she said.
Senior Sam Kesselman, however, argued that ward representation is “not really a big drawback” for him because Newton’s needs and problems “are applicable to all eight wards.”
Similarly, history Department Chair Jonathan Bassett said that “the issues that face the city are really not ward issues, they’re citywide issues.”
Kesselman said that he is pro-charter because he believes that a smaller city council will be more efficient and effective. “If you boil a soup for a long time, it shrinks, but the flavor gets more intense,” he said.
Sophomore Kendra Abbott said that a smaller council will simplify and improve voting. “With less city councilors, Newton residents will know each of them better and will be able to make more educated votes,” she said.
Additionally, smaller council with fewer seats will create an environment for competitive elections, Kesselman explained. With 24 seats it is difficult to find enough people to run for office, so almost anyone with any level of experience can “just walk on, get the required number of signatures, and then they’re on the ballot. All they need is a couple friends to get them elected,” said Kesselman.
Bassett also stressed the importance of contested elections. “This year the majority of the city council is unopposed. So what that means effectively is that you have a majority of the city council that are basically unaccountable to the voters.”
“It doesn’t matter what they do in office, they are unopposed, and they are not going to lose their seats,” he added.
The ‘no’ side, however, argues that the new charter will also make it more expensive for working-class families to run campaigns, according to Kesselman. Because ward elected councilors will be eliminated, candidates will have to campaign all over Newton, rather than just campaigning in their own ward, Kesselman explained.
However, Kesselman said, the benefits outweigh the downfalls for him, and he believes competitive elections are key to keeping Newton’s democracy fair.
“Hopefully,” said Abbott, “the new structure for the city council will allow our city leaders to more easily find solutions to local issues that work well for everyone.”