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Northampton voters OK charter changes

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A proposed change to the city’s nearly 130-year-old charter passed in Tuesday’s election by a vote of 11,842 to 2,465.

Poll workers said some were confused by the second ballot for the charter vote, and others did not feel comfortable voting for or against all of the changes en masse.

A second ballot for the charter vote became necessary after a deadline mix-up to get the question on the state ballot.

That meant the city had to create approximately 20,000 extra ballots and hire 122 extra poll workers to help handle the influx, at a cost of about $10,000.

“No one was more disappointed in the need for a second ballot than I was,” Mayor David Narkewicz said Tuesday night. “We did everything that we were supposed to do to get it all on one ballot.”

Narkewicz said the city’s intent was to get the charter question on the ballot for the national election, to get the maximum turnout possible.

Mike LaRiviere, a poll warden in Northampton, said many people were confused about the charter question and ended up not casting a ballot.

“A lot of people were not educated about it,” he said, noting that many said they were uncomfortable giving an up-or-down vote to the entire set of changes. In those cases, voters were able to return their ballots.

Narkewicz said as far as he’s aware, there’s no way to put a charter revision on a ballot in any other way except an all-inclusive up or down vote.

Narkewicz said feedback and opinions on the specific aspects of the charter changes were solicited at several charter committee hearings and city council meetings, leading up to the creation of the version that went before voters.

The charter revisions change some of the fundamental ways the city operates and hadn’t had any major revisions since its creation approximately 130 years ago.

Confusion about the extra ballot and the details of the charter itself notwithstanding, people interviewed tended to favor the change.

“I don’t really understand the charter one, but I’m in favor of it because it’s probably time to get with the times,” said Jonathan Gulow, 54, of Ward 5.

Tim Straw, 70, of Ward 7, agreed, saying, “it’s time for a change.”

Changes include extending the mayor’s term from two to four years, and putting the city council president in charge meetings instead of the mayor.

Many said they believe the extra time will enable a mayor to get more done without being diverted by a campaign.

“You can’t get anything done in two years,” said Athleen Ellington of Ward 7. “I think it’s a good thing.”

Elaine Hogan, of Ward 6, said the change is unneeded.

“I don’t think the mayor should have four years,” she said. “Why? Because if they aren’t any good we should get them out.”

School committee election cycles will change so all terms run concurrently and last two years. Under the former charter, at-large committee members served two-year terms, while their ward representative counterparts served four-year terms.

Special elections in the event of mayoral vacancies will now be in play under the new charter. Such elections will be held 90 days after a permanent vacancy occurs, unless the vacancy occurs in the last eight months of the mayor’s term, in which case the city council president will assume the role. If the council president opts out, the council will elect another member to finish out the mayor’s term.

Narkewicz said changes to the mayoral term won’t take place until the next election cycle, and changes to some school committee members’ terms won’t take place until those affected members finish their existing terms.

Hampshire COG
charter change OK’d

Less drastic changes were also approved to the charter of the Hampshire Council of Governments Tuesday night.

The question only appeared on ballots from the 15 member communities: Belchertown, Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Granby, Hadley, Hatfield, Huntington, Middlefield, Pelham, Plainfield, South Hadley, Southampton, Westhampton and Williamsburg.

The Council of Governments charter was originally approved in 1998 by all 20 municipalities in Hampshire County. It provides the legal and organizational framework for council operations.

The changes clarify procedures for communities to join the COG, revamp the membership so that each town has at least one representative, and towns that have more than 10 percent of the county’s population will have two. In addition councilors’ terms will change from two to three years, and all references to Hampshire Care, the long-term care facility once owned by Hampshire County, are now deleted from the charter.

COG officials had gone on record saying the changes are minor and don’t affect how the organization is run.

Gazette reporters Chad Cain and Etta Walsh contributed to this story.

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