There has not been much buzz in this comparatively quiet election season about the revised Pittsfield charter on the ballot this Tuesday, but the revision is important as it lays down the rules for how city government operates. The change in the mayor's term from two years to four is the most dramatic change in the charter, but the clarifications in wording throughout the charter are important as well.
The current charter was enacted in 1932, and its archaic language reflects the period. A variety of legislative acts enacted over the years succeeded in muddling it. Understandable City Council confusion in recent years about the council's authority or lack of same on a variety of issues made the need for a revised charter apparent.
The charter's modern language makes it far easier to read and comprehend, and once obscure passages related to the budget and capital planning are much clearer. The charter gives the mayor and City Council the right to grant compensation to members of the School Committee, which we hope will be considered in 2014.
The extension of the mayor's term from two years to four will give the city's chief executive time to enact his platform without having to almost immediately begin campaigning for re-election. Concerns have been expressed that because City Council terms will still be limited to two years, a mayor will have a two-year window to punish opponents on the council, in particular ward councilors, by denying funding for projects in their districts. Such actions, however, would come to the attention of ward voters and the media, and a mayor who tried to pull such a political stunt would be risking a backlash in seeking another term.
The Charter Review Study Committee, chaired by Edward LaPointe, did an excellent job in crafting the charter and involving voters with 20 public meetings and forums. If glitches or unanticipated problems emerge, or if a passage needs to be clarified, it will be far easier to make changes than it was before. It is time for the city's 81-year-old charter to move into retirement. The Eagle urges Pittsfield voters to cast a vote in favor of enacting the new charter on Tuesday.