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 Committee Report

Committee Report #12


In City Council August 2, 2004

Councillor Henrietta Davis, Chair  

The Special Committee to Review the Method of Election of the Mayor held a public hearing on June 24, 2004, beginning at 2:43 P.M. in the Sullivan Chamber.  The hearing was held for the purpose of receiving information from Worcester Mayor Timothy P. Murray and City Clerk David Rushford on the change in the Worcester City Charter from a Plan E government like that of Cambridge to a Plan E government with a popularly elected mayor.

Present at the meeting were Councillor Anthony D. Galluccio and Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Co-Chairs of the Committee, Mayor Michael A. Sullivan, Councillor Henrietta Davis and Councillor David P. Maher.  Also present were City Clerk D. Margaret Drury and City Solicitor Donald Drisdell.

Councillor Galluccio convened the meeting an explained the purpose.  He welcomed Mayor Murray and City Clerk Rushford and invited them to begin by reviewing the changes that the City of Worcester made in its governance structure.  Mayor Murray informed the committee that a charter commission was elected in the fall of 1983.  The election of the charter commission was fueled to a large extent by public discontent with the failure of the elections to produce a city council that included any councillors who were members of the minority groups that made up a substantial portion of the population.

The Charter recommended by the Charter Commission was approved by the voters in the fall of 1985 and took effect in January 1988 subsequent to the municipal election held in the fall of 1987.  Under the new charter, the nine member at-large city council was expanded to eleven members, with six members elected at large and five elected from districts, and the selection of mayor was changed from a caucus decision of the city council to a popular election.  In order to become mayor the successful candidate must win one of the six at large city council seats as well as the mayoral election.

City Clerk Rushford distributed a summary of the Worcester Charter Change, Attachment A, high school dropout data and college bound date, Attachment B, and a printed copy of the City Clerk’s web page, Attachment C.  He also submitted a booklet entitled “Manual for the City Council for the City of Worcester,” which is on file at the Cambridge City Clerk’s Office, and which includes a copy of the Worcester Home Rule Charter.  Mr. Rushford provided some additional information about the charter change.  Worcester adopted the Plan E charter in 1950, and at that time it included the proportional representation (PR) elections that Cambridge utilizes.  Worcester abandoned PR elections in 1958, largely because of the lengthy counting process entailed and perceptions of the method as complicated.  The original push in 1983 was for a strong mayor form of government.  The final product, which retained a strong city manager, was seen as a compromise.

Mr. Rushford noted that there are some similarities between Worcester and Cambridge, including age, significant proportion of non-taxable nonprofit institutions, and large immigrant populations.  He said that Worcester’s modified Plan E system works well in Worcester.  Councillor Reeves requested more details about the demographics of Worcester.  Mr. Rushford said that Worcester is a predominantly working class city, with a population of 175,000.  The local elections are non-partisan.  Worcester has a very good school system. Ninety percent of families send their children to the public schools.  The overall Worcester population is 25% minority, and 51% of the public school students are members of a minority.

Councillor Reeves asked to what extent the mayor’s race is determined by who might best lead the schools.  Mayor Murray said that the schools are a very important issue in the race.  A candidate for mayor in Worcester is invited to and expected to attend all of the school committee candidates’ nights as well as the mayor and councillor at-large events.

Councillor Galluccio asked Mayor Murray how his time is divided as between city issues and school issues.  Mayor Murray said that he spends about half of his time on each.

Councillor Galluccio asked how many mayors have been elected since the change and requested more details about how the elections work.  Mayor Murray said that there have been three mayors.  The first election was in 1987.  Jordan Levy was elected mayor and served three terms, after which he did not seek re-election.  Ray Marino was elected in 1993 and served from 1994 to 2001, and did not run for re-election in 2001.  Mayor Murray began serving in 2002 and is now in his second term. 

Mr. Rushford explained that the Worcester municipal election consists of four separate selections: district councillors, at-large councillors, school committee members and mayor.  Voters can vote for up to six at-large candidates.  There is a preliminary election that reduces the number of at-large candidates to 12.  All those who are successful in the preliminary at-large election are automatically placed on the ballot for mayor in the final election unless they indicate in writing that they do not want to run for mayor.  The person who wins the election for mayor must also win one of the six at-large council seats.

In response to a question from Councillor Reeves, he said that the City of Worcester does a significant amount of public education to make sure that the public understands that they must vote for the mayor in two elections, the mayoral election and the at-large city council election.  Both he and Mayor Murray said that there does not seem to be evidence of a lack of voter understanding of this requirement.  Mr. Rushford noted that in every election so far, the highest vote getter for mayor has been the highest vote getter for the at-large city council race.

Councillor Maher asked whether there has been a correlation between winning at-large city council candidates who were also candidates for mayor and winning at-large candidates who were not candidates for mayor with regard to the order of finish of the field.  Is there an advantage for candidates who are running for mayor?  Mayor Murray said that has not been the case.

Councillor Maher asked what the cost of a typical city council campaign would be.  Mayor Murray said that in 1993, the cost of the two top candidates for mayor was $75,000 and $64,000.  In his last campaign he spent almost $100,000.  The typical cost for a city council at-large seat in which the candidate is not also running for mayor would be $30-40,000.

Councillor Reeves asked about the salaries for the elected officials.  Mayor Murray reported that the salary of the mayor is $18,500 per year, the salary of a city councillor is $15,000 and the salary of a member of the school committee is $7,500.

Councillor Davis asked about the relationship between the mayor and the city manager.  Mayor Murray said that the city manager is in charge of the day-to-day affairs of the city including all hiring and appointments.  The mayor is only as effective as his or her ability to build consensus with colleagues.  The mayor does get the advantage of a bully pulpit. 

Councillor Reeves requested more information about how the relationship between the mayor and the city manager works.  Mr. Rushford said that the popularly elected mayor does have a certain additional status because he or she has been chosen by the electorate, and is perceived as speaking for the electorate.  The city manager tends to take the mayor’s agenda as a template.  Mayor Murray said that fundamentally, in terms of moving any issue forward, it goes back to majority rule. 

Councillor Reeves asked whether the dynamics of City Council personalities influence who runs for mayor, and Mayor Murray answered in the negative.  He said that to some extent, personality dynamics were more of a factor in the previous system, in which caucus of the city council chose the mayor.   There was one time when the mayoral term was divided among three individuals who each served as mayor for 1/3 of a term.  Councillor Reeves asked what happens to mayors after their terms as mayor end.  Mr. Rushford said that to date, no mayor has decided to not run for mayor but to run again for City Council.

Councillor Davis asked how the decision to utilize the charter commission process to make the changes came about.  Mayor Murray said that it was part of the compromise among those who were pushing for a change to a strong mayor and those who did not want a strong mayor form of government.  He said that there have been two subsequent moves to change the charter to implement a strong mayor government, one time by a home rule petition to the legislature, the other by the local amendment process in which the City Council holds a hearing and places the proposed amendment on the ballot.  He said that he found these processes to be better than the ongoing charter commission because the charter commission process was all consuming and detracted from consideration of other important issues during the long time that it went on.  In response to a question from Councillor Davis, Mayor Murray said that there was a great deal of public discussion and debate about the ramifications of the change in both of these processes.

At this time, Councillor Reeves invited public comment.

Robert Winters, Broadway, submitted a copy of his comments in writing. Attachment D.  He stated that Cambridge has had a pure Plan E government since 1941, a 63-year history of stable government.  The only problem is the current inability of nine individual city councillors to collegially act to elect a mayor.  What is needed is a change in the culture of the City Council with a clearer focus on who would be the best person for the job for a particular two-year period.  The confounding practice of assigning personal staff to the vice chair should be eliminated because it is a corrupting influence that has only amplified the contentiousness of the election of mayor.  A mayoral election involving candidates who are also city council candidates is not compatible with at-large proportional representation elections where proportional representation of constituencies is the primary goal.  If the real issue is leadership of the school committee, the answer is recruitment of school committee candidates.  There is no groundswell of support for popular election of mayor, and none of the proponents have suggested an election method.  It is likely that there would be an expectation that the mayor should have power that the charter does not grant and inevitable erosion of the city manager system.  A directly elected mayor could become a mayor-for-life position.  Cambridge has done well with a variety of personal styles.  It was good to experience “ the humanity and entertainment of Al Vellucci, the steady hand of Walter Sullivan, the reforms of Alice Wolf, the intellect and initiative of Ken Reeves, the expertise and experience of Frank Duehay, the wit and wisdom of Sheila Russell, the populist appeal of Anthony Galluccio and the fairness and professionalism of Michael Sullivan.”

Laura Booth, CEOC, 11 Inman Street, asked what the impetus was for the demand for charter change in Worcester.  Mr. Rushford responded that before the charter change, the City Council in Worcester was quite homogenous, and that was the major impetus.  Significant parts of the city felt that they had no representation.

Tom Stohlman, 19 Channing Street, said that in his opinion the important question is what caused Worcester to discard proportional representation elections, because in PR elections a city does not end up with significant parts of the population not having representation.  Mr. Rushford said that, although the change took place before he was employed in the Worcester municipal government, his understanding is that there was always misunderstanding about how PR worked among the electorate, and there was also dissatisfaction with the lengthy process of counting the PR ballots.

Councillor Maher asked how many of the councillors at large are minorities.  Mayor Murray said that there is one Latino male councillor and one-woman councillor.

Mayor Sullivan requested a description of how the previous choice of mayor by caucus worked.  Mr. Rushford said that the City Council-elect met behind closed doors in the mayor’s office in November or December after the election.  The selection was made by secret ballot.  Then at the organizational meeting in January there would be an open roll call, essentially confirming the caucus choice.  This method was used prior to adoption by the state legislature of the open meeting law.

Councillor Reeves asked whether the role of the city councillors has been diminished by the popular election of the mayor.  Both Mayor Murray and City Clerk Rushford responded that they do not believe that the councillors’ role has been diminished.

Councillor Galluccio stated that he would be pleased to see any other data that Worcester has regarding assessments of the achievements of the public schools and any information about correlation or lack of correlation with the change in the method of mayoral selection.  He thanked Mayor Murray and City Clerk Rushford for taking the time to come to Cambridge and provide this valuable information to the Committee.

The meeting was adjourned at 4:00 P.M.

For the Committee

Councillor Anthony D. Galluccio, Co-Chair

Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Co-Chair


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