Haverhill Invites Citizen Input on Changing the City’s Form of Government; Council Oks Wall Fix

Old retaining wall behind Haverhill City Hall. (WHAV News photograph.)

A plan to create a city charter commission is back on the table again, after a two-year hiatus stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

City Council Vice President John A. Michitson said last night he will have a Citizen Outreach Committee meeting with remote public participation on Wednesday, March 30, at Haverhill City Hall. He explained what he hoped would be accomplished.

“The way that the process would work, if the citizens wish to move forward and study the charter, there will be a question on the next municipal ballot that will seek the establishment of a charter commission and then, at the same time, they can vote for nine charter commission members,” he explained.

Michitson went on to say, if that is approved, the commission would then come up with recommendations for changes to the charter—the government of the city—which would appear as ballot questions at the following election.

Although Michitson has long been an outspoken advocate for more balance of power between the City Council and the mayor, he said, other issues such as length of terms, term limits and whether a city manager should be hired instead of a full-time mayor are among topics that may be considered. Prior to 1967, the city’s CEO was a hired city manager and the mayor was merely a ceremonial post held by a city councilor.

Not all councilors supported the idea. Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua said perhaps the plan should be put on the shelf until it is seen how the election of ward councilors and school committee members plays out.

“For the first time, the residents will vote in a municipal election for ward councilors. The ballot will include a question on a charter commission and that there will be nine people elected to serve on that charter commission. I think there is going to be so much confusion on the ballot that I think that it’s going to become very confusing for the average voter,” he said.

Michitson responded the upcoming meeting is intended to address such issues and learn how citizens react to the subject rather than councilors. That meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 30, at 6 p.m. at City Hall, room 202.

In an unrelated action, the Council agreed unanimously to approve $1.2 million in borrowing to replace a retaining wall at City Hall and undertake related work between the building and parking lot. (Related: see earlier story.)

Purchasing Director Steven Bucuzzo attended the meeting remotely to answer any questions, but was unable to do so because of technical difficulties. Bucuzzo said previously the city received eight proposals for the project and awarded the contract to George R. Cairns and Sons of Windham, N.H.

Work on the project is scheduled to begin in June and be completed by early fall.

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