Councillors Vote on Charter Changes

Only one charter amendment of the six proposed by City Councillors made the grade at Monday night’s council meeting.

Every 10 years, the city undertakes a charter review process to make changes to the document that sets guidelines for the governance of the city. As part of that process, councillors are able to present proposed charter changes to the full council.

The one amendment that was approved unanimously will allow for early, in-person voting for a week before preliminary and general city elections, similar to what has been allowed by the state over the past two years during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Council President Roy Avellaneda said he introduced the amendment as a way to try to increase voter participation in the city.

“As you saw last year, during Covid, we actually had early voting, we allowed voting the whole week before and the Saturday before leading up to the Tuesday election,” said Avellaneda. “It allowed people to vote on more than one day. If we are trying to get more involvement, we have to take into account schedules that are out there in our community … and now you have a whole week, and maybe that will increase voter participation.”

Councillor-At-Large Damali Vidot praised the amendment and efforts to increase voter and civic engagement.

“We need to figure out how to actively increase civic engagement in our community, and this is a great way of doing that,” she said.

However, several proposed amendments that some councillors saw as impediments to civic engagement were voted down by the council.

Councillor-At-Large Leo Robinson proposed cutting the size of the City Council back from 11 members with three at-large councillors to nine members, with four at-large seats.

“In the history of the City of Chelsea, for those who are newcomers, there have always been nine members serving on the City Council, four at large, and five wards,” said Robinson. “In those wards, there were Precinct 1, Precinct 2. The wards were spread out to give a number of people the opportunity to be able to run for council in those areas.”

Historically, when there were nine members on the council, up to 80 percent of the voters in Chelsea came out to vote, compared to recent elections where the turnout has been closer to 20 percent, Robinson said.

Several councillors, including Vidot, District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero, and District 5 Councillor Judith Garcia spoke in opposition to the amendment, stating it would decrease participation.

“If we talk about educating the newcomers, I think this really diminishes the hard work of the residents that fought so hard for representation in this body, this council,” said Garcia. “I think I should remind you, as a baby of the 90s, that it was hard working residents and civic leaders that worked so hard to get many of us here and to have representation in every district.”

District 1 Councillor Todd Taylor was the only other councillor to join Robinson in voting for the amendment.

An amendment proposed by Avellaneda to require any write-in candidate to receive at least 25 votes to be elected failed by a 7-4 vote. 

Avellaneda noted that there are thresholds already in place requiring 50 signatures to get on a ballot, and that setting a minimum for write-in votes would prevent someone from getting into office by merely writing in their own name if there were no other candidates in a race.

Taylor agreed that the amendment would not limit democracy, also noting the other requirements in place to get on the ballot.

However, Vidot said the amendment would interfere with the will of the voters.

“The majority wins,” she said. “Who are we to impose not allowing the democratic process to happen. I think this is an overreach.”

Avellaneda withdrew a motion that would have set a similar standard for the School Committee.

District 3 Councillor Naomi Zabot withdrew an amendment that would have required council members to forfeit their seat if they were absent from three consecutive meetings without an excuse.

Several councillors noted that it should be up to the voters, not fellow council members, to determine if a councillor is fit for office.

An amendment introduced by Recupero requiring all decisions of the Traffic and Parking Commission to be approved by the City Council was also voted down.

Taylor said he understood Recupero’s intent with the motion to streamline the traffic and parking decisions and placing more power in the hands of the City Council, but the motion was ultimately deemed to be too convoluted by some councillors.

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