City Council charter survey discussed

WESTFIELD – Two City Council committees discussed plans to amend the City Charter last night with the attorney hired to assist the city’s legislative body with that effort.
Members of the Ad Hoc Charter and Rules committee and the Legislative & Ordinance committee are currently considering a number of changes to the structure of city government.
Attorney Peter Martin, the retired Law Department supervisor, presented the preliminary results of a charter survey completed by 10 city councilors. That survey, with nearly 50 questions, indicated that most council members are satisfied with the current form of city government.
The survey asked councilors if they strongly agreed with the question, agreed, disagreed or strongly disagreed. Each of those responses had a numerical value, ranging from 1 for strongly agree to 4 for strongly disagree, so the lower the number, the more that question was supported by the councilors. The lowest possible value was 10 and the highest was 40.
The questions focused on four axis of political philosophy, strong centralized government as opposed to limited government with citizen participation.
“What we found in terms of political philosophy is that limited government was preferred, although there were some exceptions,” Martin said. “The second highest vote getter was the city-owned utility. We found very strong support for a municipal utility versus public (investor-owned) utility, which is a powerful government approach.
Martin said the councilors expressed support for the decentralized form of government with citizens on boards and commissions exercising control over department and the city’s professional staff.
“The decision-making power is in the hands of citizens as opposed to government professionals,” Martin said. “The strong administrator form of government was actively disliked, which is consistent with the other axis.
“There is not a whole lot of support to changing the decentralized form of government,” Martin said. “This questionnaire does not lead me to believe that further substantive changes to the charter are something people feel there is a need to do.”
Martin said that the home rule petition approved by the City Council and Mayor Daniel M. Knapik earlier this year to bring the 1920 City Charter into compliance with current state and federal law has been approved by the state Senate and is currently under review by the state House of Representatives.
“Let’s get that home rule petition through the General Court (legislature), then it might be appropriate to do a refresher on the charter to see what you have,” Martin said.
The committees are considering charter changes to the term of the mayor, from two to four years, and establishing a mayoral eight-year term limit. Another change would link department head terms to the mayor’s tenure in office, while another amendment would set salaries for elected officials, as well as boards and commission members.
The ad hoc committee voted to keep those proposals in committee until the home-rule petition process is completed and further changes to the charter are under consideration.

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