Rhanna Kidwell

CHARTER REFORM HISTORY

1874 Newton’s charter as a city was enacted. The legislative branch was bicameral. It had a Board of Aldermen, consisting of one member from each of the city’s six wards, elected at large. It also had a Common Council, consisting of two members from each ward, elected by the ward only. A seventh ward was added in 1876.
1897 Newton adopted a new charter. The bicameral legislature was merged into one body, the Board of Aldermen, with its current configuration of two At-Large Aldermen and one Ward Aldermen from each ward. An eighth ward was added in 1958.
1969 Newton elected a charter commission to revise its charter. This charter commission resulted from a petition led by the League of Women Voters.
1971 Newton voters approved the charter proposed by the charter commission. Significant changes included:

  • Changing the term of the mayor from two years to four years
  • Instituting an override of the mayor’s veto by a 2/3 vote of the Board of Aldermen
  • Requiring that vacancies in elected office be filled by special election rather than by a vote of the Board of Aldermen

Since 1971, minor modifications have been made to Newton’s charter by a process called home rule petition, whereby the Board of Aldermen petitions the state legislature to approve specific changes.

2008 A citizen group led by Tom Sheff, Alan Dechter, and Miles Fidelman began a grass-roots effort for charter reform. They collected over 2,000 signatures toward getting the charter commission question on the ballot.
2009 The League of Women Voters of Newton initiated a study of Newton’s charter.

Sandy Butzel and Rhanna Kidwell co-chaired the study. Sandy is a past League president and committed community leader.

In the study, 34 League members spent 9 months comparing Newton’s charter to charters of 11 benchmark cities and to the Model City Charter, published by the National Civic League. Study participants interviewed officials from benchmark cities and met with a charter expert employed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The study concluded that Newton could benefit from charter reform, and the League adopted four positions specific to reforming Newton’s charter.
2012 As a result of the charter study, the League launched its signature drive to get the question of electing a charter commission on the ballot in Newton.

Rhanna Kidwell led the 2 1/2 year effort, working with an energetic team of 50 volunteers who collected signatures at the Farmers’ Markets, the library, the polls on Election Days, grocery stores, back-to-school nights, Village Days, the 4th of July celebration, and the Harvest Festival.
July 1, 2015 City Clerk David Olson confirmed that the petition had passed the threshold of 8,353 signatures (15% of registered voters) required to put the question on the ballot. 1,250 certified signatures from Tom Sheff’s effort were still valid and contributed to the total.