Charter Review Committee – The Mayor and the School Committee

I have been catching up on the deliberations of the Charter Review Committee, which has been meeting for the last few months to evaluate Greenfield’s City Charter and recommend changes:

(a) In General – This Charter may be replaced, revised or amended in accordance with any procedure made available under the State Constitution, or by statutes enacted in accordance with the State Constitution.

(b) Periodic Review – The City Council shall provide, in every year ending in a zero, for a review of the Charter by a special or standing committee of the Council [consisting of not more than three (3) members] and four (4) additional persons to be appointed by the Mayor. The said committee shall file a report within the said year recommending any changes in the Charter, which it may deem to be necessary or desirable.

At their November 9 meeting, the Committee discussed a bunch of proposed changes to Article 4 of the Charter, which lays out the structure, powers, and procedures of the School Committee. Among these suggestions was a change that would prevent the Mayor from serving as the School Committee Chair.

As things currently stand in Greenfield’s charter, the Mayor is automatically a member of the School Committee. There is nothing in the Charter that prevents the Mayor from being elected Chair of the School Committee by the members.

It sounds like the Charter Review Committee received a hefty amount of input from the community regarding this change, a lot of which relates to an episode in the past when the Mayor was elected School Committee Chair. My guess is that there is also no small amount of partisan politics at play in the community comments, i.e., folks who disagree with the politics of the current Mayor and are looking to limit her power. Both of those points are, however, entirely my own speculation.

It is an interesting discussion, though. One of the standards the Charter Review Committee has adopted for its evaluation of proposed changed to the Charter is that a higher bar should be applied for changes that would reduce access and/or equity for the people of Greenfield.

Would preventing the Mayor from being School Committee Chair reduce or increase access? One argument is that, as a member of the School Committee, the Mayor should be allowed to be Chair just like any other member of the Committee; it is, after all, a position elected by the Committee members. Viewed that way, changing the Charter in that way would reduce access to power.

The other argument is that allowing the Mayor to be Chair of the School Committee increases the risk of a consolidation of power in the hands of a single person. As such, reducing that risk could be seen as increasing access to power.

I don’t know the answer to that question, and neither does the Charter Review Committee at this time. The entirely unofficial straw poll following that discussion ended in a 3-3 split.

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