Ahead of this evening’s final meeting of the Charter Chapters 7-7 & 7-8 Review Ad Hoc Committee, I have been reading through the recommendations they will be voting on. They can be found under “5. Motions” here.

7-7 and 7-8 are the parts of the Greenfield City Charter that lay out the rules for Citizen Initiative Measures and Citizen Referendum Procedures, respectively. These are the processes by which citizens can bring measures to the City Council for a vote, and if rejected by the Council, directly to the ballot.

I did a detailed write-up of how all this works under the current charter language a couple of years ago when the 2020 Charter Review Committee was running.

There was a a fair amount of kerfuffle back in the spring and summer of 2021 when the Charter Review Committee’s recommendations went to the City Council, almost entirely over the committee’s recommendations regarding changes to the number of signatures required for submitting citizen initiatives

Greenfield’s current requirements in this regard are pretty arbitrary, and also low compared to surrounding towns, and thus the Charter Review Committee recommended raising those requirements. That recommendation did not sit well with the “We should go back to Town Meeting government” crowd, nor with local gadfly Al Norman, a somewhat frequent user of the citizen initiative process.

So now we have this ad hoc committee that has been specifically tasked to come up with recommendations regarding these particular sections of the charter. This committee is chaired by David Singer (who also chaired the 2020 Charter Review Committee). The other members are City Councilors Helie and Golub, Danielle Letourneau from the mayor’s office, and community members Isaac Mass and Al Norman.

The changes this committee is recommending can be found a ways down in the agenda I linked back up in the original post in this thread.

From what I can tell, the main changes being proposed here are 1) to provide more structure regarding the “Petitioner’s Committee” (the small group that start the process) and how it interacts with the Council, 2) the number of signatures required at the various stages of the petition, and 3) the timeline for submitting the petition and the City Council taking action on it.

There is also some introductory/explanatory language added up front, which I think is a good idea, since the current wording in the charter is super-confusing and I suspect few people around town–including many folks who have strong opinions about this stuff–actually understand how it works.

The additional structure and process for the Petioner’s Committee seems to be intended to allow that group to negotiate with the council as it considers and acts upon (or does not act upon, as the case may be) the measure being proposed by a petition. I think there has been confusion in the past as to what happens if the City Council takes up the measure but then amends it in a way that significantly changes it from the original submission.

The proposed language sets the number of signatures required at 150. The current charter language–as well as all of the proposals bandied about in 2021–is based on percentages of registered voter and/or percentages of the number of voters in the most recent election. I’m not sold on 150 being the right number but I think it makes sense to have it be an absolute number rather than the layers of complexity in percentages of voters.

And then the rest of the proposed changes look to be concerned with tightening up the process and the timeline once the petition is certified and the measure is taking up by the City Council. I should probably take some time to add up all the days in the current charter language v. the number of days in the proposed language. There is also specific language propose allowing for negotiation between the council and the petitioner’s committee about changes to the measure.

Reading the minutes from the ad-hoc committee’s previous meeting where they discussed all of this, it seems like most of that committee agreed on this language, with Al Norman being the hold-out, objecting to most of the bits that would prolong the process or raise the bar for submission and approval of citizen petitions.

My guess is the this language will end up being forwarded to the City Council with a positive but non-unanimous recommendation from the ad hoc committee, but I guess we’ll find out!