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More Signatures Needed for Newton Charter Commission Ballot Question

The League of Women voters collected around 2,500 signatures on Election Day 2012 -- but there is more work to be done.

Although many local campaigns ended on Election Day, the Newton League of Women Voters (LWVN) is pressing on with its mission for a charter commission ballot question. 

The LWVN is currently collecting signatures for a ballot question that would ask voters in November 2013 whether the city should form a Newton Charter Commission, a nine-person committee that studies the Newton charter and proposes changes to the city government.

The LWVN spent Election Day 2012 collecting signatures for the ballot question and managed to gather approximately 2,500 names. But, there's still plenty of work to do.

According to LWVN Co-President Sue Flicop, the LWVN needs to collect about 4,200 more signatures to add to previous collection efforts and meet the goal of 8,400 total signatures. 

"We know the task is achievable and are planning a combination of individual efforts (volunteers carrying the petition around), team efforts at local events, and another collection at the special [override] election in March," Flicop said in an email to Newton Patch.  

The 8,400 signatures must be in by July 2013 to make it on the November 2013 ballot. However, Flicop said the LWVN would like to reach that goal as soon as possible.

Around 50 volunteers, including many non-League members, helped the LWVN during the Election Day signature drive and committed around 80 hours of volunteer time. 

"We averaged 50 signatures per volunteer, though there was a wide variation based on the time of day and which polling place they manned," Flicop said. "The evening was quite busy for our volunteers, though collecting signatures was very challenging in the dark!"

It has been nearly 40 years since Newton voters made changes to the city's charter, a document that outlines the city's government and how it operates.

Back in June, the LWVN announced its plans to start the signature drive and, over the course of the summer and fall, spread the word about the charter commission ballot question. 

Once voters approve of the commission and the nine members, the commission will conduct an independent study of the charter over the course of 18 months and make recommended changes. Those recommendations would then appear on another municipal ballot for voters to decide whether they should be implemented.

The most challenging part of the Election Day signature drive was explaining the complicated issue to voters in just a couple of minutes, Flicop said. Nevertheless, the LWVN is optimistic they are getting better at that quick, "elevator speech", and will continue to build momentum and support.

"Overall, we were pleased with the enthusiastic reception to our efforts," Flicop said. "Most voters seemed to quickly grasp the potential for improvement and the importance of a disciplined review of our government every 40 years or so."

Forty years ago, the charter commission recommended changes that were eventually passed, including changing the mayor's term from two years to four years and adjusting how vacancies were filled on the Board of Aldermen.

The recent push to form a charter commission started almost three years ago when an independent group, which included several LWVN members, tried to gather signatures for the charter commission ballot question and asked the LWVN to join with the initiative. 

Over the course of nine months, a LWVN committee studied the city charter and decided to support the signature drive for the ballot question. In the process, the group also formed a number of "positions" on the city charter, or recommended changes. 

The LWVN then voted to adopt those positions as part of its 2010-2011 program. If the charter commission question passes and the group is formed, the LWVN will lobby in favor of its positions. 

One of those positions is reducing the Board of Aldermen from 24 aldermen to no fewer than 16. The LWVN also has a position that recommends extending the terms for School Committee members and aldermen from two years to four years.

Flicop clarified that the question of whether to form the charter commission must be voted on at a regular municipal election (in November 2013) and cannot be voted on at the special override election expected in March. 

Residents with questions on the charter commission or who would like to volunteer for the LWVN's signature drive can email charter@lwvnewton.org

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