A plan to ask the state legislature to mandate the election of the city council and school board primarily by wards advanced Tuesday, more than two years after the issue gained new momentum and four months after the Haverhill voters favored her.
Councilors are due to vote on a plan recommended in January by the mayor’s task force on ward city council and school committee. The city council and school committee would grow to 11 members. Members of the task force supported a plan to elect seven city councilors per ward and four citywide, or at large. For the school committee, one member from each of the city’s seven wards and three from the entire city would ultimately be elected for a two-year term. The mayor would remain the tiebreaker.
“The new electoral system will ensure more diverse representation from every part of the city, so that power is not concentrated in a few neighborhoods. And that will encourage more people to run for office,” Haverhill Latin American Coalition President Manuel Matias said in a statement Friday.
Councilors will also consider delaying the implementation of ward elections for the three school board members elected last fall to four-year terms. This would allow members Paul A. Magliocchetti, Richard J. Rosa and Maura L. Ryan-Ciardiello to complete their terms.
The Latino Coalition and Greater Haverhill Indivisible kicked off the current effort in January 2020 when they presented a forum, “Exploring the Possibility of Neighborhood Representation”. The forum, which also introduced the idea of electing both the school board and city council by ward, became the largest effort to change the city charter in more than 50 years.
Members of Greater Haverhill Indivisible emailed councilors over the weekend, writing: ‘We urge you to vote ‘YES’ on the new ward-based hybrid electoral system and send it to the Legislature of the state for final approval. Having a ward system will promote diversity in Haverhill, with policy implications in terms of the equitable distribution of municipal services across all wards.
The group’s message adds: ‘Having a councilor and school committee member from each district who we can contact about issues specific to our neighborhoods and someone who can bring our concerns to the Council will benefit all residents of Haverhill. Since the well-being of each neighborhood is affected by the municipal services we all share, the inclusion of certain seats on the school council and committee will also ensure that issues that affect the community as a whole are taken into account. account.
Last November, 65% of Haverhill voters supported the concept in two non-binding referendum questions on the ballot.
Last July, Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights made it clear publicly for the first time that it was working with Haverhill’s Latino Coalition when it sent a letter demanding a change in the methods of electing city councilors and members of the school committee. Group General Counsel Oren Sellstrom had been a panelist at the 2020 Haverhill Forum.
At the same forum, it was Ben Forman of MassInc who planted the idea of also electing the school committee by district. He pointed to research showing that school boards in gateway cities do not reflect the same diversity as their student populations.
The Haverhill City Council meets at 7 p.m. remotely and in person in Theodore A. Pelosi Jr. Council Chambers, Room 202, Haverhill City Hall, 4 Summer St., as a public service, 97.9 WHAV plans to hold the meeting live.