The Somerville City Charter – Special to Somerville News Weekly by Joe Viglione

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What is a city charter?

According to Wikipedia: In the United States, a charter city is a city in which the governing system is defined by the city’s own charter document rather than by general law. In states where city charters are allowed by law, a city can adopt or modify its organizing charter by decision of its administration by the way established in the charter. These cities may be administered predominantly by residents or through a third-party management structure, because a charter gives a city the flexibility to choose novel types of government structure.

Charter city – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_city

To this writer’s understanding the Charter is the Constitution of a city, much like the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a Constitution as does the United States of America, along with a Bill of Rights https://billofrightsinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Branded-Bill-Of-Rights.pdf – starting with the all-important First Amendment to that U.S. Constitution.

Here is Somerville’s charter on Municode.com
https://library.municode.com/ma/somerville/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTICHRELE_DIV1CH

Division 1 – CHARTER[1]
Footnotes:
— (1) —

Editor’s note— The Charter of the City of Somerville is printed in this part and is Chapter 240, Acts of 1899, as amended. All amendments to Chapter 240 have been inserted in their proper places, and the repealed or amended provisions removed. The official citations of all amendments are enclosed in parentheses following each amended section, in chronological order. The absence of such a citation indicates that the provision remains as originally adopted. The numbers of the sections of the Charter are the official numbers. Catchlines have been added to the sections of the Charter to facilitate usage and are enclosed by brackets. Other material in brackets has been added where necessary for purposes of clarity.

State Law reference— City Charters, M.G.L.A. c. 43.

LETTER OF INTRODUCTION

To the Honorable Mayor and City Council:

On April 14, 1871 the Governor of the state approved Chapter 182 of the Acts of the Legislature for 1871. This act, adopted by the voters of the town April 27, 1871, established the City of Somerville and outlined the basic laws and regulations of the new city government.

This Charter of the City of Somerville remained in force until 1899 when at a special election held September 26th, the voters of the city accepted a revised Charter which the State Legislature authorized by Chapter 240 of the Acts of 1899.

The Revised Charter of 1899 is still the basic law for the city. However, since that time, the State Legislature has authorized and the city has accepted several amendments to the Revised Charter.

The accompanying copy of the Revised Charter has incorporated all authorized changes through the publication of this most recent Supplement. No changes can be made in these laws without specific authority from the State Legislature.

An Appendix has been included which cites several additional acts of the State Legislature, as amended which, although not direct amendments to the Charter, lay down basic requirements for our city government. These acts are included here to give a more comprehensive picture of the city’s basic laws as well as facilitate research and reference.

Yours truly,

John J. Long
City Clerk

TITLE 1. – MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT

Sec. 1. – Incorporation.

The inhabitants of the City of Somerville shall continue to be a municipal corporation, under the name of the City of Somerville, and as such shall be subject to all general laws relating to such corporations not inconsistent with the provisions of this Act.

Sec. 2. – Form of government.

The administration of the fiscal, prudential and municipal affairs of said city shall be vested in an executive department, to consist of the mayor, and a legislative department, to consist of a single body, to be called the city council. The executive department shall never exercise any legislative power, and the legislative department shall never exercise any executive power.

( Acts 2018, Chapter 355 , approved Jan. 1, 2019.)

Sec. 3. – Seven wards established.

It shall be the duty of the city council in joint convention, as soon as may be after the acceptance of this Act, to divide said city into seven wards, containing as nearly as possible and as may be consistent with well-defined limits to each ward an equal number of male voters. In order that the new wards may conform to the present representative districts, the present ward one shall constitute one ward, and the present wards two, three and four shall each be divided into two wards. Immediately after such new division of the city into wards, the city council shall divide such new wards into voting precincts, none of which shall contain more than one thousand registered male voters, and the mayor shall thereupon appoint, with the approval of the city council, election officers to serve therein. Action under this section shall not apply to the state election to be held the present year.

( Acts 2018, Chapter 355 , approved Jan. 1, 2019.)
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What are the forms of government in Massachusetts? Go to MGL (Mass General Laws) Chapter 43 Sec. 9
https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleVII/Chapter43/Section9

Section 9. In the case of a petition for the adoption of Plan A, B, C, D or E, within seventy days after the petition has been filed with him by the petitioners the city clerk shall, except as provided in section ten, transmit a certified copy thereof to the city council, except that the signatures upon the petition need not be copied but in place thereof the city clerk shall state the number of signatures of registered voters thereon, certified as such by the registrars of voters. If any question arises as to the validity or sufficiency of the petition or of the signatures thereon, any registered voter of the city may appeal for a determination of said question to the applicable board referred to in section twelve of chapter fifty-three, by filing a notice of such appeal with the city council and with the clerk of the board of registrars of voters within eighty days after the date the petition was filed with the city clerk by the petitioners, and the board so appealed to shall within thirty days render a decision thereon. The board shall submit notice of its decision forthwith to the city council.

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OK – that doesn’t really describe what Plan E, D, C, B or A government is, and they are placed backwards intentionally for you to think about it, that there are separate plans that the majority of citizens are probably unaware of. You can find each plan on that page, Chap 43, Sec 9 and I urge you to do so.

Here’s a snapshot to give you the first step from the General Laws:

Plan A
Section 48. There shall be a mayor, elected by and from the qualified voters of the city, who shall be the chief executive officer of the city. He shall hold office for the term of two years from the first Monday of January following his election, and until his successor is qualified.

Plan B
Section 58. There shall be a mayor, elected by and from the qualified voters of the city, who shall be the chief executive officer of the city. He shall hold office for the term of two years from the first Monday in January following his election and until his successor is qualified.
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Obviously Plan A and B need to be scrutinized as the snapshot is exact.
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Plan C focuses on the city council
Section 66: City council; powers and duties

Section 66. The government of the city and the general management and control of all of its affairs shall be vested in a city council, which shall be elected and shall exercise its powers in the manner hereinafter set forth; except that the general management and control of the public schools of the city and of the property pertaining thereto shall be vested in the school committee.

Plan D
Section 81: Management and control of city government by mayor and council

Section 81. The government of the city and the general management and control of all its affairs shall, except as otherwise provided in this chapter, be vested in a city council, which shall exercise its powers in the manner hereinafter set forth, but subject to sections one to forty-five, inclusive, in so far as not inconsistent; except that the city manager shall have the authority hereinafter specified, and that the general management and conduct of the public schools of the city and of the property pertaining thereto shall be vested in the school committee, and that the city clerk, the city auditor, any official of the city appointed by the governor and any trustees or other officers whose election by the voters of the city is required by the reason of the fact that the city has accepted any gift, devise or bequest shall have the powers and duties which may be conferred and imposed upon them by law.

Plan E
Section 95: Governing power of city council, etc.

Section 95. The government of the city and the general management and control of all its affairs shall, except as otherwise provided in this chapter, be vested in a city council, which shall exercise its powers in the manner hereinafter set forth, but subject to sections one to forty-five, inclusive, insofar as not inconsistent; except that the city manager shall have the authority hereinafter specified, that the general management and conduct of the public schools of the city and of the property pertaining thereto shall be vested in the school committee, and that the city clerk, the city auditor, any official of the city appointed by the governor and any trustees or other officers whose election by the voters of the city is required by reason of the fact that the city has accepted any gift, devise or bequest shall have the powers and duties which may be conferred and imposed upon them by law.

Plan F

Section 119: Mayor; election; term
Section 119. There shall be a mayor, elected by and from the qualified voters of the city, who shall be the chief executive officer of the city. He shall hold office for the term of two years from the first Monday in January following his election and until his successor is qualified.

Plan F seems similar to A and B, but again, the nuances are in the details thus some studying of the page on the laws is required.

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Let’s digress to see a different Plan of government, Baton Rouge, Parish of East Baton Rouge

Plan of government
The Plan of Government Plan of Government laid out the organization of the new combined governing body; it defines zoning, division of responsibilities, and jurisdictions. The Plan of Government has been amended at least 17 times since it went into effect in 1949.
Reference: http://www.brla.gov/1257/Plan-of-Government
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I always ask readers to randomly check out other cities, towns, states when it comes to public access TV, police departments, hospitals, schools, “to see how the other half lives” (Beatles, “Glass Onion”.) Why reinvent the wheel. What is obvious is that each state has its own rules and plans of government.
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It isn’t easy – but it is necessary to understand how our government functions and what our rights are

The challenge is to plow through stuff like “State Law reference— Plan A, Charter, M.G.L.A. c. 43, §§ 46—55.”

Hopefully this first look into it starts the conversation.

To be continued

 

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