Massachusetts House Sends Haverhill’s Petition for Ward-Based Elections to the Senate

During the January 2020 forum, “Exploring the Possibility of Neighborhood Representation,” were, from left, moderator Ben Forman of MassInc, Haverhill City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr. and Oren Sellstrom, litigation director for Lawyers for Civil Rights. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill’s move to ward-based city council and school committee members is a step closer to reality with the Massachusetts House Thursday granting preliminary approval and sending it to the state Senate.

The House, where the home rule petition was presented by Rep. Andy X. Vargas, accepted the bill on its required third reading and passed it to the Senate, where it is sponsored by Sen. Diana DiZoglio.

The state House of representatives have had the bill since March, shortly after Haverhill city councilors voted 8-0 to ask the legislature to make the change. If approved by the Senate and signed by the governor, as is likely, the bill amends the city charter providing for the election of city councilors and School Committee members primarily by wards rather than the current system where all are elected on an at-large basis.

Under the plan, the City Council will expand to 11 members with seven city councilors elected by ward with four others elected at-large. The school Committee will have seven ward members, three citywide representatives and the mayor as tiebreaker.

An additional change eventually reduces School Committee terms from four to two years. Those elected to four-year terms last November will be permitted to complete their durations.

The latest push to change Haverhill’s charter began in January 2020 with a forum by the Latino Coalition and Greater Haverhill Indivisible. Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights, representing the Latino Coalition, followed up last July with, what it called, a “demand” letter to the city that stopped just short of threatening outright legal action.

Haverhill residents voted by a 2-1 margin in favor of ward representation in a non-binding referendum on last November’s ballot.

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