Pandemic Threatens to Scuttle Plans to Let Voters Decide City Charter This Year

Haverhill city councilors previously heard resident input during a Citizens Outreach Committee meeting. (WHAV News file photograph.)

After months of discussion and a public presentation, the Haverhill City Council last night elected to postpone plans to place a charter change question on the November ballot. That change—favored by Mayor James J. Fiorentini—would change the City Council from nine at-large members to an 11-member body, made up of four at-large members and seven others, each representing a separate city ward.

Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan initiated the postponement, citing the need for more public discussion which, due to restrictions on public gatherings because of the coronavirus, cannot be done in the immediate future. He suggested the matter be tabled until July. Fiorentini balked at the idea, however, noting that would not leave enough time to legally get the question on the ballot.

At least two other councilors agreed getting the question on the ballot might just be too ambitious an endeavor this year. Councilor William J. Macek said there also needs to be discussion as to whether a similar ward-based question should be applied to School Committee members and if there should be a full charter committee review as well. Councilor John A. Michitson agreed saying we may need to slow down for the time being.

“So first of all, I think we’re going to have a very difficult year and I’m not sure that in order to really have the deep dialogue that you need so that the people really understand what they’re voting for and what the implications are and so forth,” Michitson said.

Michitson went on to say that given the COVID-19 situation, having a charter commission review might be the best way to go. “We don’t have to have a vote in November and we can start addressing, you know, some of the other issues in our city.”

In the end, the councilors agreed to a compromise date of May 19 to at least reassess the situation.

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