By Christopher Roberson
Director Stephen McGoldrick of the Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management and his colleague Marilyn Contreas recently went before the City Council to discuss the possibility of updating the City Charter, which is now 102 years old.
During the May 10 meeting, Councillor-at-Large David Gravel said City Solicitor Michael Smerczynski had offered two options for charter revisions. The first option would be to elect a Charter Commission. Gravel said that option “had a lot of tripwires in it in terms of being able to move forward.”
The second option would be to form a committee of appointed members to write a Special Act. “Going the Special Act route is a lot more efficient,” said McGoldrick. “You don’t have to go through the election of a nine-member commission.”
He also said Special Acts are much more common. “We’ve seen hundreds of Special Acts,” he said.
McGoldrick also said the Collins Center is currently assisting Lynn and Methuen with charter revisions and both of those communities have appointed committees. He said the committee would consist of “seven to nine” members who would meet “10 to 12” times and develop a 30-page charter document to present to the council. The council would then forward that document to the state legislature for final approval. “It’s complicated stuff, but we know what you can do and what you can’t do,” said McGoldrick.
Contreas underscored the gravity of implementing a charter change. “It’s not like an ordinance where you change it as conditions change,” she said. “It’s very difficult to go in with a scalpel and extract certain things. These survive administrations – many administrations.”
Contreas said revising the charter is the only way to keep the document specific to Peabody. “If you rely on state law, it’s kind of like generic cereal: It comes in one flavor and that’s what you get,” she said. “This is a chance for you to add fruit or something.”
Contreas also said the council itself could vote to make some changes depending on where they are in the charter.
In addition, McGoldrick said the process would also involve reviewing and possibility repealing prior Special Acts if they are outdated. He said the process would likely take “eight to 10” months to complete and would cost “$30,000-$40,000.” McGoldrick also said the legislature will require that any proposed charter change be put on the ballot.
The council voted unanimously to ask Mayor Edward Bettencourt to incorporate the cost of the charter revisions into the city’s budget for fiscal year 2019.
According to its website, the Collins Center was established by the legislature 10 years ago and is located at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Since then, the Collins Center has provided services to 150 municipalities and 24 school districts.
Coolidge Avenue Water Treatment Plant
During the council’s Finance Committee meeting, Finance Department Director Michael Gingras said he expects the city will receive a $7 million insurance reimbursement for the fire that destroyed the Coolidge Avenue Water Treatment Plant. Thus far, the city has received $2.3 million from the insurance company. “As we rebuild the plant, we’re submitting costs to them and they’re reimbursing us,” said Gingras.
He said the estimated reconstruction cost is projected to be between “$5 million and $6 million.” The additional $1 million would pay back the money that was paid out to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority for one year of water service.