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Editorial: Renewing city’s constitution

On Election Day, Northampton voters will be asked whether they want to approve a new charter in a special election. The proposed changes to the city’s 129-year-old “constitution” are designed to clarify language and streamline the document with the goal of making city government more effective and efficient.

Significant charter changes are proposed and all city voters should be paying attention. Among the shifts is extending the mayor’s term from two to four years and removing the mayor as chairperson at City Council meetings, instead having the council president oversee sessions of the city’s legislative branch.

Another measure would eliminate staggered elections for School Committee members and create two-year terms for all members of that panel. The proposed charter changes include having a special election 90 days after a permanent vacancy occurs in the mayor’s post and creating a compensation advisory board to periodically review compensation and benefits for elected officials.

We believe the charter changes are warranted and urge Northampton voters to usher them in. It only makes sense to periodically review the city’s charter and examine its strengths and weaknesses. What constitution doesn’t change?

A four-year mayoral term, which is not uncommon, would eliminate the annual or biannual distraction of fundraising and campaigning and allow the city’s chief executive officer to stay more focused on his or her work. Instead of a two-year track record, voters would examine a four-year span when considering electing an incumbent to another term.

We believe the mayor should not preside over City Council meetings. Eliminating that structure will provide a healthier balance between the city’s executive and legislative branches.

What taxpayer wouldn’t want the city to periodically review compensation and benefits for elected officials? And streamlining elections for School Committee members has numerous benefits, including placing everybody on a level playing field at election time.

A council-appointed charter committee of citizens spent months working on the proposals. The public and local officials were provided ample opportunity to weigh in on the discussions, through public forums and presentations, some of which were televised.

The charter changes are well-thought-out, community-driven initiatives. There are no surprises here, just change for the better. Vote yes for a new Northampton city charter.

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