Monday, February 25, 2019

Boston City Council Looks At Election Reform, After Hours Construction, MBTA Better Buses & More

City Councilor-At-Large Michelle Wu publishes notes from Boston City Council meetings. The Boston City Council considered the following items and more at their February 13, 2019 meeting:

Elections Reform: The Council voted on two of the three proposals that Councilor Campbell had filed at the last Council meeting:
  • Length of Council Terms: The Council voted 11-2 (Councilor Zakim and I opposed) to advance a home-rule petition that would double the length of the Council terms, from 2 years to 4 years. Several Councilors had stated at the working session on Monday and on the Council floor today that having a longer term would strengthen the Council as a counterweight to the Mayor’s office, and it would save the City money by eliminating the need to run a citywide election in the non-Mayoral odd year. Councilor Zakim and I voted against this proposal because of concerns that it would raise the barriers for new candidates to challenge incumbents. Absent campaign finance reform, this would double the amount of time and number of years that incumbents could build up warchests and make it more difficult for a first-time candidate to raise the resources for a credible campaign. Many of the instances where new candidates successfully challenged incumbents have occurred in the non-Mayoral years, so we would effectively halve the opportunities for new candidates to join the Council (in fact, it has been 22 years since an incumbent Councilor was unseated in a Mayoral-year election; the four examples of challengers winning seats in the last 20 years have all happened in the off-years, which would be eliminated under this proposal). Finally, I believe that having a two-year term makes Councilors more accountable to constituents and pushes us to be the most nimble level of government. Certainly there are projects that require more than two years, but there are also many projects that move along more quickly because of that accountability. The proposal will need approval by the Mayor and state legislature to be implemented.
  • Running for Multiple Municipal Offices: The Council voted 12-1 (I opposed) to prohibit candidates from running for two municipal offices at the same time. The most recent example of this was when Councilor Yancey in 2013 ran simultaneously for Mayor and for re-election to the Council. Proponents believe that this will force candidates to make a choice about which office to pursue seriously. I voted for this when the Council passed this docket in April 2016, but believe that in this political moment, we should take every step to encourage more people to run, not restrict ballot access. This proposal will also need Mayoral and state legislative approval to be implemented.
  • At-Large Vacancy: We did not take a vote on this docket, which would change the rules to fill an At-Large vacancy from the current 5th place finisher taking the seat to a special election process similar to the way that vacant District Council seats are filled. Councilor Baker stood to say that he would have voted against this, because although he filed this docket in 2016, he would not want to disrespect Councilor Garrison today and how she earned her seat. The matter remains in committee.

Early Voting: The Council voted to pass a home-rule petition filed by Councilors Zakim, Janey & Campbell to implement early voting for municipal elections. Currently, the state law only requires and allows early voting for state elections, and Boston has seen early voting drive up turnout due to convenience and flexibility. The docket will require state approval to be implemented.

Corporate Tax Break Transparency: I filed an ordinance to increase corporate tax break transparency for incentives granted by the City. Residents should be able to easily access information about which companies are benefiting from corporate tax breaks in order to understand how much of a return Boston is getting on its investment. Massachusetts received the lowest score from Pew Foundation in 2017 for its evaluation of tax breaks, and Boston’s Tax Increment Financing Program received a score of zero in transparency from Good Jobs First, while other cities, such as New York and Austin, are providing their citizens with transparent databases that hold businesses accountable. Businesses receiving tax breaks should have to share basic information on the benefits they will provide the city, including number of jobs created with wages and benefits information. The matter was assigned to the Government Operations Committee for a hearing.

After-Hours Construction: Councilor Flynn called for a hearing to discuss construction and development issues outside standard permitted hours of 7am-6pm, including early morning, late evening, weekends and holidays. Particularly in the South End, community leaders have questioned the frequency of permits granted for after-hours and weekend construction for emergency and extraordinary circumstances. Residents in South Boston and Chinatown have highlighted concerns regarding security and safety in all phases of development at construction sites, damages to neighboring properties, the need for adherence to approved plans, and suitable rodent control. The current penalty for demolition, erection, alteration, or repair of any building outside of permitted hours without special approval is $300 for each offense. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Planning, Development & Transportation for a hearing.

Voter Registration Information to all New Tenants: Councilor Zakim and I filed a hearing order to discuss providing voter registration information to all new tenants in Boston. Massachusetts allows eligible citizens to register to vote in person at a number of public facilities including city and town halls, via mail-in registration form, or online if the Registry of Motor Vehicles has their signature on file. 64% of Bostonians are currently renting their homes and apartments, and a number of municipalities around the country, including Seattle, Washington, and most recently St. Paul, Minnesota, have implemented ordinances requiring that landlords provide voter registration information to all new tenants upon the signing of a lease. The matter was assigned to the Committee on Civil Rights for a hearing.
MBTA Better Bus Project: I called for a hearing regarding the MBTA Better Bus Project, including the recently released 47 cost-neutral proposals to update and modernize existing routes. The Better Bus Project includes several components: continuous change, analysis, proposed near-term changes, multi-year investment strategy, and the Bus Network Redesign. These proposals are meant to lay the foundation for a bus network with more frequent, reliable service to provide better connectivity in Greater Boston. The City of Boston has a big role to play in working to advance the MBTA’s proposals, and I suggested today that the we could bundle this hearing order with the one previously filed by Councilor Essaibi-George and me on the City’s annual local assessment payment to the MBTA. Councilor Essaibi-George also noted that it would be important to add BPS bus transportation to the MBTA bus conversation. The matter was assigned to the Planning, Development and Transportation Committee for a hearing.

Appointments: The Mayor made the following appointments to the Zoning Board of Appeals:
  • Nadine Fallon as an alternate member until July 2021
  • Bruce Bickerstaff as a member until July 2021
  • Mark Fortune as a member until July 2021
  • Joseph Ruggiero as a new member until July 2021
  • Christine Araujo as a member until July 2021

For complete notes on Boston City Council meetings, visit or sign up to receive these notes automatically. 

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