Rare Joint Meeting Tuesday of Haverhill’s Elected Officials to Begin Change to Ward Representation

Then-Haverhill City Council President Melinda E. Barrett and Vice President Colin F. LePage during inaugural exercises in 2020. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill’s first steps toward carrying out voters’ wishes to change to ward and/or district representation and avoid a possible lawsuit take place Tuesday night.

A rare joint meeting of the mayor, City Council and School Committee is set to bridge the differences between what voters approved earlier this month and what lawyers say will satisfy the federal Voting Rights Act. Councilor William J. Macek recently noted voters’ 2-1 approval is a mandate for urgent action.

“It was a large win for ward councilors for both the City Council and the School Committee and that can be done by just coming up with the details, with some effort of the Council and the School Committee and the mayor,” he said.

In a non-binding referendum, voters approved seven district city councilors plus four at-large and five School Committee districts with three at-large seats. However, Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights suggested the city instead elect seven School Committee members by district, one at large and the final seat going to the mayor. Similarly, the lawyers urge the City Council remain at nine members, but with seven elected by districts and two at-large.

They explained courts have ruled too many at-large seats may “dilute a minority population’s equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.”

Shortly after his re-election Fiorentini also told WHAV he wants agreement on placing a home-rule petition before the legislature before the end of the year.

“I think job one is going to be ward councilors and ward School Committee members. The public voted on this. The people have spoken. They voted overwhelmingly in favor of this so I’m going to be refining a home rule petition and presenting that to the City Council. That’s going to be job one,” he said.

The mayor also called for the Haverhill Latino Coalition to be represented in talks. The Coalition and Greater Haverhill Indivisible kicked off the drive for change during a January 2020 forum, “Exploring the Possibility of Neighborhood Representation.”

More changes to the Haverhill’s 50-year-old charter could come later. Councilors also recently backed a request by Macek and Council Vice President Colin F. LePage to ask for a full Charter Review Commission.

The joint meeting takes place Tuesday, Nov. 23, from 6-7 p.m., in the Theodore A. Pelosi Jr. Council Chambers, room 202, Haverhill City Hall.

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