Monday, March 06, 2017

Boston City Council Looks At Reprecincting, Art Commission, Universal Pre-K & More

City Council President Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered the following items and more during their March 1, 2017 meeting:

Reprecincting: The Council voted to pass the home rule petition that Councilor Linehan & Council President Wu co-authored to add additional polling locations in the six largest precincts in Boston. The recommendations came out of two public hearings with the Elections Department and community members, pointing out that these largest precincts create significant voter access challenges. In the decades since Boston last made major adjustments to equalize precinct sizes, the city’s population has shifted such that today our biggest precinct (Ward 3, Precinct 8 in Chinatown) has over 6,000 registered voters, while the smallest (Ward 8, Precinct 6 near South Bay) has just under 500 voters. That means very long lines at certain polling locations and difficulty with voter access. For a detailed summary of the first hearing on reprecincting, click here.The home rule petition would allow the City to subdivide these largest precincts in time for the upcoming municipal elections, without changing political district lines or ward lines. The affected precincts are: Ward 3, Precinct 6 (Downtown); Ward 3, Precinct 7 (South End); Ward 3, Precinct 8 (Chinatown); Ward 5, Precinct 1 (Bay Village, Chinatown); Ward 6, Precinct 1 (Seaport, Fort Point, South Boston); Ward 9, Precinct 3 (South End/Lower Roxbury). The changes would need to be approved by the state legislature by June at the latest to implement in time for the September 2017 Preliminary election. If approved, the home rule petition would allow for voter registration locations to be changed in the statewide system.

Publishers Note: Ward 6-1 reprecincting subdivides 6-1 and 6-1A at Summer Street in Fort Point. For complete details, view Boston Elections Commission Reprecinting Proposal.

Boston Art Commission: The Council voted to pass Mayor Walsh’s home rule petition to give the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) one seat on the Boston Art Commission. With this petition, the ICA would join the Museum of Fine Arts, Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum, Boston Public Library, Boston Society of Architects and Mass College of Art in having a seat on the commission. 

Universal Pre-K: The Council voted to pass Mayor Walsh’s home rule petition to redirect revenue generated in Boston by surcharges on sightseeing tours and rental car transactions from the Boston Convention Center and Exhibition Fund to the City’s general fund to pay for Universal Pre-K for all four year olds in the City of Boston. Currently, the revenue coming in is earmarked toward paying off the Convention Center costs, but often generates a surplus. With the Convention Center expansion on hold, the Mayor is proposing that the revenue generated in Boston come back to the City for this targeted purpose.

Boston Fire Department Cadet Program: Councilors Campbell & Linehan filed a hearing order to discuss the feasibility and implementation of a Boston Fire Department cadet training program. In an effort to recruit firefighters who reflect the racial and socioeconomic diversity of the City of Boston, the Boston Fire Department has made recent investments including hiring a Diversity Officer and launching a Teen Academy aimed at providing summer job training for high school students interested in careers as firefighters. The Councilors spoke about modeling the Boston Fire Department cadet program after the recently reinstated Boston Police cadet program, an on-the-job training program for Boston residents ages 18-24 seeking a career in law enforcement. Several Councilors emphasized that this is not a conversation about pitting veterans against communities of color or Boston residents, but should be a data-driven approach about how best to strengthen our law enforcement agencies while creating economic opportunity for the city. The matter was sent to the Public Safety & Criminal Justice Committee for a hearing.

Free Petition: City Council President Wu filed an ordinance to codify the right of free petition at the municipal level in Boston. The right of free petition is unique to Massachusetts, found in Article XIX of the state constitution and dating back to colonial times. At the Massachusetts State House, the right of free petition guarantees that any citizen may file a bill through his or her state legislator. Several cities and towns have laws codifying free petition at the municipal level in place already, including Chelsea, Lawrence, Winthrop and Newton. The free petition ordinance would require the Boston City Council to hold a public hearing on the subject of any group petition signed by 250 or more residents, within three months of filing the petition. The goal is to provide another outlet for residents to get involved in influencing policy and public discourse in Boston, regardless of voter registration and immigration status. The proposal received a mixed reaction on the floor: some colleagues spoke about the importance of civic engagement and the need to continually strengthen democracy, but others stated that the Council is already accessible and responsive, expressing concern that this mechanism would give voice to opportunists or strain Councilors’ schedules by pulling time away from constituent services in having to chair required hearings. The matter was sent to the Government Operations Committee for a hearing.

For complete notes on Boston City Council meetings, visit MichelleForBoston.com or sign up to receive these notes automatically each week by email. 

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