A city’s charter is like its constitution. It is the document that determines how a city’s government is structured, including such things as the size and composition of the city council (our Board of Aldermen) and school board (our School Committee), the form of the executive branch (a mayor or a city manager), powers and duties of elected offices, checks and balances, and term lengths and term limits for elected offices.
Newton’s charter, a 25-page document, can be found here.
On November 3rd, at the regular city-wide election, Newton residents will vote on the question “Shall a commission be elected to revise the charter of Newton?” On the same ballot, voters will vote for up to nine people to serve on the commission. If the yes vote carries, the nine people who earn the most votes will become the commission.
A charter commission is a nine-member elected body that serves for only two years. The commission is elected specifically to review and propose changes to the city charter, and it has no other powers or duties. Charter commissioners are not compensated. The commission is required to hold public hearings as a part of the process of gathering public input.
Newton will be voting on whether to elect a charter commission because 15% of registered voters (more than 8,400) signed a petition asking for the ballot question. The signature collection began in 2008, led by a grassroots citizen group. In 2012, the League of Women Voters of Newton took on the task of completing the petition.
Two years after the charter commission is elected, voters must approve any proposed changes before they can be adopted.
The League of Women Voters of Newton’s website has a wealth of information about the charter commission process, including the history of our last charter commission, which was elected in 1969, also following a League-led signature drive.
League of Women Voters Newton
The City of Newton website also has information about the timeline and laws governing charter commissions.
The timeline and laws governing charter commissions