Council Votes Tuesday Night to Adopt Haverhill City Council, School Committee Elections Mostly by Ward

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

Click image for Haverhill City Council agenda.

A plan to ask the state legislature to mandate election of the City Council and School Committee mostly by wards moves forward Tuesday, more than two years after the issue gained new momentum and four months after Haverhill voters favored it.

Councilors are scheduled to vote on a plan recommended in January by the Mayor’s Task Force on Ward City Council and School Committee. Both the City Council and School Committee would expand to 11 members. Task Force 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.

“The new electoral system will ensure more diverse representation from every part of the city, so power is not concentrated in just a few neighborhoods. And, it will encourage more people to run for office,” said Latino Coalition of Haverhill President Manuel Matias in a statement Friday.

Councilors will also consider delaying implementation of ward elections for the three School Committee members elected last fall to four-year terms. This would allow members Paul A. Magliocchetti, Richard J. Rosa and Maura L. Ryan-Ciardiello to complete their terms.

The Latino Coalition and Greater Haverhill Indivisible launched the current effort in January 2020 when it presented a forum, “Exploring the Possibility of Neighborhood Representation.” The forum, which also introduced the idea of electing both the School Committee and City Council by ward, became the most significant effort to alter the city charter in more than 50 years.

Greater Haverhill Indivisible members emailed city councilors this weekend, writing, “We urge you to vote “YES” on the New Hybrid Ward Based Electoral System and send it to the state legislature for final approval. Having a ward system will help Haverhill’s diversity, with policy implications in terms of fair distribution of city services to all neighborhoods.”

The group’s message adds, “Having a councilor and school committee member from each district that we can contact about the issues specific to our neighborhoods and someone who can voice our concerns on the Council will benefit all Haverhill residents. Since the welfare of each neighborhood is affected with the city services that we all share, including some at-large seats at the Council and School Committee will also ensure that issues that affect the larger community are taken into account.”

Last November, 65% of Haverhill voters backed the concept in two non-binding referendum questions on the ballot.

Last July, Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights made it clear publicly for the first time that it is working with Haverhill’s Latino Coalition when it sent a letter demanding change to the city’s methods of electing city councilors and School Committee members. The group’s litigation director, Oren Sellstrom, had served as a panelist during the 2020 Haverhill forum.

At the same forum, it was MassInc’s Ben Forman who planted the idea of also electing the School Committee by neighborhood. He pointed to research showing school committees in Gateway Cities do not reflect the same diversity as its student populations.

The Haverhill City Council meets at 7 p.m. remotely and in-person at the Theodore A. Pelosi Jr. Council Chambers, room 202, Haverhill City Hall, 4 Summer St., As a public service, 97.9 WHAV plans to carry the meeting live.

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