Haverhill Council Backs Studying Limits, Possible Charter Change on Mayor’s Budget Superiority

Haverhill City Councilor John A. Michitson. (Courtesy photograph.)

The Haverhill City Council wants more say in how the city’s budget is spent and members are proposing a ballot question to achieve that goal.

Councilor John A. Michitson along with Council President Timothy J. Jordan introduced a plan they say would level the playing field between the mayor and the Council. Michitson, who has long advocated limiting the powers of the corner office, detailed his concerns.

“The bottom line is the City Council can only adopt or reject a budget or reduce specific items in a budget, but can’t bring new programs forward for a vote. One of the reasons is the mismatch between the mayor and the City Council budgetary powers,” he said.

Michitson pointed to a charter change approved by Boston voters in November. More than 67% of residents there approved “granting the city council the authority to amend a budget proposed by the mayor and to override the mayor’s budgetary amendments or vetoes and establishing an office of participatory budgeting by 2024.”

Michitson said the idea includes controls to keep the Council from spending more the mayor’s proposed ceiling. He said it would provide the Council with the same latitude as the School Committee to decide what projects receive more funding and which ones can do with less.

“If a School Committee member has an idea that requires additional spending, the member will also recommend what to cut to maintain the revenue ceiling. They are not as hamstrung as the City Council,” he explained.

Michitson said, in Boston’s case, the mayor could still veto or amend the council’s changes but such an action could be overridden by a two-thirds vote. Jordan strongly backed the idea.

“The way I’ve always viewed it, the City Council is supposed to act sort of as the way the legislature does in the federal government, as a system of checks and balances. We clearly do not have anywhere near that power. I do think this would give a step in the right direction,” he said.

Not all council members were on board. Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua said he believes the Council already consults with the mayor.

“The reason why I say that is because the mayor has always come to us and said to us ‘What would you suggest we cut so that we can make that change?’ So, the Council has always had that ability,” he said.

Michitson suggested sending the proposal to the Council’s Citizen’s Outreach Committee for study and asking City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr. to help delineate the procedure for moving forward.

Councilors agreed, voting 7-1 to support the motion with Bevilacqua opposed and Councilor Michael S. McGonagle absent.

Earlier this week, the Mayor’s Task Force on Ward City Council and School Committee recommended two charter changes. Members backed a plan to elect seven city councilors by ward and four citywide, or at-large. For School Committee, one member from each of the city’s seven wards and three citywide would eventually be elected to two-year terms. The mayor would remain the tiebreaker.

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