Haverhill voters are being offered a chance to voice their opinions on whether they should choose the City Council by ward or the School Committee by district.
Whatever the majority chooses Tuesday, it amounts only to an opinion since the outcome isn’t binding. One question asks whether Haverhill should elect one city councilor from each of the city’s seven wards and four at large. The second asks voters whether they agree with electing a nine-member School Committee with five members elected from districts to be defined by the City Council and mayor and three more from across the city. Earlier this year, under threat of legal action to create potentially minority majority regions, councilors placed the questions on the ballot. However, members made the questions non-binding so as to reflect the possibility voters will have no say in the matter.
With at least three newcomers joining the City Council, there’s no certainty the newly reconstituted body in January would forward a home rule petition to the legislature if that is the wish of the voters. Such a decision would likely result in a showdown since the Haverhill Latino Coalition and Lawyers for Civil Rights are demanding change, saying Haverhill’s current system “dilutes” the votes of communities of color.
Back in July, Haverhill Latino Coalition’s Manual “Manny” Matias told WHAV the question should not go before voters.
“We would want the home-rule petition. That is an option so we would welcome that, but we don’t want this to go on the ballot. We see what the (minority population) numbers state and they see what the numbers state. It’s up to them (the City Council) to make that decision,” he explained.
It is unclear what happened behind the scenes to write the School Committee question so that its members would be elected from five arbitrary districts rather than wards that will be the basis of City Council divisions.
Moreover, the configuration of Haverhill wards and precincts also face changes following last year’s U.S. Census that saw the city grow. See a sample of the ballot questions here.