Haverhill Charter Change Meeting Centers on Inability of Councilors and Mayor to Get Along

Haverhill City Hall. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill residents had the opportunity Wednesday night to share thoughts on the possibility of making changes to city government—mostly to put an end to the ongoing bickering between the mayor and City Council.

City Councilor John A. Michitson hosted a Citizen’s Outreach Committee Meeting at City Hall, seeking feedback from residents about the idea of adding a question to the 2023 election ballot asking voters if they approve of creating a Charter Commission.

“So, you’d have a question on there that would say ‘Shall a commission be elected to revise the charter of Haverhill’ and, at the same time, you’ll have at least nine candidates that are going to run for the commission,” he explained.

From that point, Michitson said, if the commission is approved, members would have two years to make revisions to the charter, such as changes in the length of terms for city councilors, term limits and whether to keep a mayoral form of government or opt for a city manager instead. Those charter changes would then be placed on the 2025 ballot for public approval.

Although attendance was minimal, those that turned out shared opinions, particularly regarding what they see as a tug of war between the mayor and the City Council. Stephen J. Costa, however, pointed out a change from the strong mayor form of government to a city manager has had mixed success elsewhere.

“What I don’t want to see happen in this city is that we change the charter. We have 11 city councilors. We go to a city manager. What really is the fiduciary responsibility? You watch what’s going on with the communities that already have it. It may not work. It may work. I think it would be wise if the charter commission looked at that,” he said.

Other residents expressed dissatisfaction with what they called the lack of unity between the council and the mayor and suggested a form of government where both branches were involved with spending decisions. Speakers also expressed strong support for a five-year capital improvement plan to provide a financial blueprint for future growth.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini chimed in, reminding the committee that Haverhill already had a city manager form of government, which he said did not work out.

“We had it in Haverhill. It was a disaster and the voters, very wisely, changed that so that the leader of the city would not be responsive to a small group of councilors, but would be responsive to the public,” he said.

The mayor said, while some smaller communities have gone to a city manager, most larger cities have chosen to stay with having a mayor. He also expressed his belief the question should be put on hold until the new ward-based City Council is seated, and they should decide whether or not to pursue a charter change.

Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan also offered an opinion that, unless more people turn out to vote, any decision on charter change will still reflect only the will of a minority of the public.

Michitson thanked all that turned out for the meeting, calling it a good first step in the process.

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