Getting Pittsfield voters to agree on anything is difficult, but getting them to agree on everything is impossible, which is the problem with the Pittsfield Charter Review Study Committee's unanimous recommendation that city voters make an all-or-nothing decision on a new city charter. A vote to reject everything based on the unpopularity of one provision would result in a wasted review effort and the defeat of many good reforms.
For example, while the granting of compensation to members of the School Committee (with the exception of the mayor) is an excellent idea, it is possible that anti-spending voters opposed to this proposal could be so adamantly against it that they would vote the new charter down in its entirety. If this happens, good measures like department consolidation and the extension of a mayor's term to four years that may be popular throughout the city could be dragged down to defeat as well.
Committee member Peter Marchetti said in Wednesday's Eagle that public support for voting on each revision individually is growing, which is not surprising, but he believes that because the proposed changes are interconnected they should not be voted on piecemeal. Certainly most are related, but some can stand on their own and should pass or fail on their own without threatening the entire effort.
We urge the review committee to reject any provisions for citywide votes on particular issues, which is a recipe for the referendum paralysis that afflicts states like California. Referendum questions tend to be simplistic and worded to achieve a specific vote, and even when done properly they can cause the political process to grind to a halt while time is spent on a cumbersome voting process. City voters elect a mayor, City Council and School Committee to act on specific issues and they should allow them do their jobs.
The proposed recall provision in which 20 percent of registered voters could sign a petition seeking the removal of an elected official at the ballot box is also problematic. It invites a clique of disgruntled residents to go after an official they don't like, and as was shown last year in Wisconsin, recall efforts suck all of the air out of the political atmosphere and can distract officials from the duties they were elected to perform. If elected officials are suspected of serious crimes or abuses of office, there are already methods available to pursue these allegations within state law.