Saturday, August 15, 2009

Chatter about a Charter Commission in Holyoke

By Alex Ross, Turley Correspondent

HOLYOKE - Residents of the Paper City will soon know the candidates appearing on the ballot this November for seats on a Charter Commission, as the Sept. 22 deadline for nomination papers to be submitted inches ever closer.

In order to serve on the commission, that will be tasked with examining the structure and procedures as well as recommending changes to the city’s charter and government; one must be a registered Holyoke voter, acquire the signatures of at least 50 other fellow Holyoke voters, and have the necessary paper work and signatures handed into the city clerk by Sept. 22. The candidates will then be elected for membership in the upcoming November elections. Already some candidates have filed and submitted their papers.

“We have some people who have taken up nomination papers so far,” said Holyoke City Clerk Susan Eagan. “I’d say so far about 10 or 11.”

Holyoke has not had such a Commission since 1973, and support from Holyoke’s 15 member City Council, the legislative body of the city, has been far from unanimous. In January a measure to create such a body was rejected by the Council by a razor thin margin of 8-7. However just two to three months ago the measure was voted on again, passing by 8-7.

The margin in both cases of a single vote demonstrates the contrasting positions of within the council. Advocates of the measure say that such an examination and changes are necessary and important in ensuring that the city government be more efficient and useful to the public in the 21st century. That there needs to be an inventory of what operates the best in a municipal government and what is lacking.

“My experience in my first term as a city councilor is city government is not as efficient as it could be,” said Rebecca Lisi, a first term Councilor that supports a Charter Commission. “Specifically our power to hold our appointees accountable in their appointed positions is fairly limited. The process, by which we pass city ordinances in my opinion, could be opened up so there is a lot more dialogue and discussion.”

Lisi says that the council rules governing a meeting are too limiting and should have more opportunity for citizen input. However, fellow Councilor John Brunelle, who represents the city’s fifth ward, says that public meetings and hearings offer ample opportunity, and that meeting rules can be suspended and are flexible enough to allow citizens and councilor’s alike to voice their ideas and sentiments on public issues.

Brunelle also adds that there are some issues; among others possibly making the positions of tax collector and City treasurer appointed positions rather then elected ones, or proposals regarding the size of the City Council; among others are worthy of discussions and that he is not opposed to all efforts at reform.

However Brunelle states that a charter commission would be too costly, too slow of a process that could take years for any changes to go into affect, and that from what he has heard there is little demand for the establishment of such a commission.

“There are certain changes I think we could look at and need,” said Brunelle. “But I have not gotten one call in regard to anybody for a charter commission or against a charter commission.”

According to the city clerk’s office there have been citizens who have advocated such a measure and that in the event that it was not voted to be placed on the ballot through a council vote; citizens if they desired could do so themselves if they were able to obtain the signatures of 15 percent of the city’s registered voters.

Either way, the membership of a Charter Commission will be determined this November, when citizens head to the polls and cast a ballot deciding the membership of such an entity. The Commission will then examine the current charter and mechanisms of the city government, before putting forth a series of reforms that will be distributed to the public and voted on in the 2011 elections.

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