The Civil Rights and Race Relations Committee met again this afternoon to discuss plans for implementing ward representation. I must say it was a thought-provoking meeting. Each department head that had been charged with assessing potential changes in their departments gave a report. Mike Plaisance over at the Republican will probably give more details but for me two issues remained key. The first is resolving the situation with the School Committee, three of whose members were elected for four year terms but who can only serve two years in order for ward representation to be implemented.. The second issue, and one that will play out over time, is the role of neighborhood councils and civic associations in a system with ward representation.
Councilor Tim Rooke (not on the committee) came in about fifteen minutes after the meeting started and was greeted by Chairman Tosado. Rooke started by asking about salaries for ward councilors-- were they going to be the same as at-large councilors? Tosado said yes, that he had looked at Chicopee and Holyoke, both of which have at-large and ward councilors, and that the salaries were the same.
Rooke said he'd wondered about that, because, for example (I'm going to have to paraphrase here because I didn't have a tape recorder) if you were a councilor from ward seven, you'd get to vote on ward seven issues, but....At that point, he seemed to tune into a general sense of disagreement.
"Isn't that the way it is?" he asked.
"Everybody votes on everything," I said, at which point Chairman Tosado said, "Michaelann, please, let the lawyer answer that," cutting me off. (Although I noted he seemed to have no problem with the men who spoke out of turn.) So then City Attorney Ed Pakula gave the legal opinion and basically said just what I'd said, only with more words..
I must say I was just astounded that a sitting city councilor, who was one of two "no" votes on ward representation proposal when it came before City Council in 2006 apparently was unaware of the details of what he was opposing and even now has not taken the time to educate himself about ward representation-- now the law of the land, even for him, if he plans to run again. Perhaps he thinks he's such a shoe-in for an at-large seat next fall that he doesn't have to think about those those lowly ward councilors?
At this point Councilor Rooke went from bad to worse when he started questioning whether there would still be a role for neighborhood councils and if the city should continue to pay for staff for some of them! Of course this is exactly what the neighborhood council members present were fearful about, a forced irrelevance of the council and civic association system.
Rooke said he thought Mayor Sullivan had created the neighborhood council system in the 70's as a way of giving neighborhoods a voice, but now with the ward representation, would they be needed? I thought his question surprisingly parochial seeing as nearly every city in Massachusetts has neighborhood councils AND a mixed-- at-large and ward-- city council. Maybe Councilor Rooke doesn't get out of town much. I think it was Councilor Tosado who had a good comeback-- neighborhood councils are not ward-based and neighborhoods often overlap wards.
Well, I certainly think there's a continued need for neighborhood-based organizations.As far as I can recall, we've got twelve neighborhood councils and ten civic associations. Long may they reign.
I'll save the School Committee for tomorrow..