‘How we govern ourselves’: Northampton Charter Review Committee gets to work

  • Stanley Moulton, chairman of the Northampton Charter Review Committee GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Northampton City Councilor-At-Large William H. Dwight GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/15/2019 3:16:29 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The city’s Charter Review Committee has begun the work of looking over the document that chairman Stanley Moulton refers to as “the blueprint of municipal government in Northampton.”

And Moulton wants ample public involvement in this process.

“I’m encouraging people to think outside the box,” he said.

The City Charter essentially serves as Northampton’s constitution, laying out how the municipal government functions. The last time the charter was amended was 2012, and it included a provision that a committee would be created to review the charter every year that ends in a nine.

This year ends in a nine. The committee, as it happens, consists of nine people, including a representative for each of the seven wards, a representative from the City Council, and a representative from the mayor’s office.

“I live for this,” said City Councilor-At-Large William Dwight, who is the council’s representative.

The committee, which first convened Feb. 7, will meet from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of the coming months in the second-floor hearing room of City Hall. The meetings will be open to the public with public comment periods, and Moulton also spoke of public forums being set exclusively for public comment.

“We’re just trying to reach out,” said Moulton, a 40-plus-year employee at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, who retired from the newspaper last year.

“It is certainly a change for me,” said Moulton, when asked about participating in government after being such a longtime observer.

Dwight said he nominated Moulton to be chairman because he “has a holistic and historical perspective that’s unique in the city. He seemed to be the obvious choice given his breadth of perspective.”

Dwight nominated Sam Hopper, who works as a district aid to state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, to be vice-chairwoman because she’s “the most engaged citizen I have ever seen.”

“She attends more meetings than I do,” said Dwight. “Her level of community engagement is kind of scary actually.”

Both nominations were approved unanimously. 

Hopper said she is interested in seeing how the charter is and isn’t working effectively. She did not join the committee with an agenda, she added, though she would like to learn more about lowering the municipal voting age and why the city clerk is elected and not appointed.

While the charter will contain housekeeping items, Moulton said that he expects to hear about bigger picture items from members of the community.

Ranked-choice voting, lowering the voting age in municipal elections, appointing instead of electing the city clerk, and lengthening City Council and School Committee member terms are all issues Moulton said could come up, along with discussions about the citizens’ initiative and citizens’ referendum processes. 

“I see our agenda as wide open,” said Moulton, who also acknowledged that the committee has a firm end date for its work: Dec. 31, when it must submit its report to the city clerk.

Said the veteran newsman: “We all work better under deadlines.”

Dwight said that documents like the charter are living, and meant to adapt over time. For example, the committee has the ability to recommend major changes to the city’s charter, such as returning Northampton to town meeting government or getting rid of the mayoral system in favor of a town manager.

Dwight said that he is not in favor of such major structural changes and that he thinks Northampton is “generally high-functioning.” 

He added that the Charter Committee is not meant to address issues like speed bumps, but rather “how we govern ourselves.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


















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