Pittsfield needs a new charter.
The National League of Cities defines a charter as the "basic law that defines the organization, powers, functions and essential procedures for the municipal government. The charter is comparable to the state constitution and the constitution of the United States. The charter is, therefore, the most important single law of any local government. Through change on the charter, almost any desired change can be achieved in governmental organization, powers, function and procedures."
The league goes on to say, "Faulty governmental machinery is responsible for more governmental ills than most people suspect. Other things being equal, the better the charter, the better the government."
In August 2012, Pittsfield's City Council and mayor enacted an order that established a committee, the Charter Review Study Committee, to "fully examine the charter of the city of Pittsfield to determine whether any changes to the present structure of government should be recommended to the citizens of Pittsfield." This distinguished group convened 18 times in public session and held two public forums to gather the opinions of Pittsfield residents.
Last spring, the study committee submitted its recommendations to the City Council. The Council debated the recommendations and voted unanimously to petition the state Legislature to enact the charter proposal, subject to voter ratification. The petition was approved by the state's House and Senate and was signed by Governor Patrick.
The proposed charter would replace the current one, which was enacted back in 1932 and has been amended by a hodgepodge of special legislative acts since then. This charter is fundamentally obsolete and has become virtually impossible to comprehend. The charter proposal calls for broader citizen involvement through initiative and referendum provisions, a transparent budgeting and capital planning process, and a provision that will allow the city to restructure its operations in response to future conditions.
Following a Massachusetts trend, it calls for a four-year term for the Pittsfield mayor, which will give the chief executive time to develop and implement policies and programs promised to voters. Although not obligated, the City Council, with the approval of the mayor, may grant compensation to members of the School Committee, one of the most critical and time-consuming offices in any municipal government.
Much has changed since 1932, but Pittsfield still struggles to operate under its 81-year-old charter. The Charter Review Study Committee, the City Council, the mayor, the state Legislature, and the governor are in agreement that it is time to move the city forward. On Nov. 5, it will be up to the voters to follow through and bring local government into the 21st century.Daniel L. Bianchi is the mayor of Pittsfield, Kevin Sherman is the president of the City Council, and Edward Lapointe was the chairman of the Charter Review Study Committee.
Daniel L. Bianchi is the mayor of Pittsfield, Kevin Sherman is the president of the City Council, and Edward Lapointe was the chairman of the Charter Review Study Committee.