There were some interesting comments on my Tuesday post on City Councilor Patrick Murphy’s successful motion to have the Rules Subcommittee “discuss Charter Changes to increase civic participation.” It might be helpful to review how the city’s charter has changed through the years.
Lowell was organized as a town in 1826 but the official
- City Charter
was granted on April 11, 1836 (which makes next year the city’s 175th anniversary but that’s another story). Skipping the early years of alderman and mayors elected to one-year terms, the first modern governmental charter was enacted in 1921. It provided for an elected mayor and a council of 15 members with 9 elected by ward and 6 elected at large. The school committee consisted of 9 members elected at large.
The city adopted Plan E in 1944 which consisted of a city manager, 9 city councilors elected at large, and 6 school committee members elected at large – essentially the system we have today EXCEPT the council election used proportional representation, the voting method that requires voters to rate their candidates 1 through 9. A complex formula that tabulates all the #1 votes, then all the #2 votes, and so on, is used to decide the victors. (This is the system that the 2009 referendum sought to enact). A major change occurred in 1957 when the city discontinued proportional voting in favor of “plurality voting” which is the system we have now – one vote counts for one vote with no weighting involved.
In the late 1960s, a charter commission was elected. That group proposed a change to a “strong mayor” form of government but the voters rejected that in the 1971 election by a 2 to 1 margin. I remember that the election of charter commission members was a hotly contested race with many prominent citizens winning election and serving. (Beyond the election and the personalities, I’m fuzzy as to the when, what, where, how and why; so more research is called for on that topic). The defeat of the charter change by such an overwhelming margin seemed to suppress the reform impulse for a couple of decades.
The only subsequent attempts to alter the charter by way of the ballot box were the four non-binding questions in 1993 and the proportional representation referendum from 2009, both of which I discussed in my Tuesday post.