New Council Spars Over Whether to Change Voting for Ward Seats

On Monday, Jan. 13, Everett’s new City Council hit the ground running, tackling a proposal that would change the future of City Council and School Committee elections in Everett.

Councilor At-Large Wayne Matewsky proposed a measure that would amend the City Charter to change the voting rules in Everett so that Ward Councilors and Ward School Committee members would only be elected by their respective wards, as opposed to citywide.

Currently councilors running for ward seats have to campaign citywide, since the entire city votes for ward councilors. This means that a ward councilor could technically not receive any votes in his or her ward, but could still win the seat if he or she does well in the citywide vote. Councilor Matewsky condemned the current process, calling it “obscene and undemocratic.”

“We are the only city in the state that has this type of government election process. A ward seat is a ward seat,” he said. “Very few people are a fan of the system as it is.”

Ward 3 Councilor Anthony DiPierro and Ward 2 Councilor Stephanie Martins agreed with Councilor Matewsky.

“It’s disenfranchisement of the voters,” said Councilor DiPierro. “How you do in the ward doesn’t really count.”

If Councilor Matewsky gets his wish, then ward councilors would have to win over voters in their own wards. However, some councilors felt that a ward-specific vote could lead to a territorial mindset, where ward councilors only pay attention to issues in their wards and ignore issues affecting the city at large.

“I’m opposed to this and I’ve always been opposed to this,” said Councilor At-Large John Hanlon. “If something comes up, they didn’t vote for me so why should I get involved?”

Ward 1 Councilor Fred Capone cautioned that the charter change could engender a sort of tribalism, if a ward councilor feels compelled to vote on something that would benefit his ward but would hurt the city as a whole.

He mentioned that having Councilors representing wards was just a formality meant to ensure that every ward had representation in the council.

“We’re all technically councilors at large,” said Councilor Capone.

Councilor At-Large Peter Napolitano also voiced his opposition to changing the charter, which he himself had a hand in drafting. He argued that the charter had already gone before the voters and that he wasn’t prepared to change it.

“I’ve paid my dues and I’m not doing that again,” he said. “This is not something we can just change because we want to.”

In September, the Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston sent a letter to the Council encouraging it to end the practice of citywide voting as it is considering a violation of the Voting Rights Act. The group has taken legal action against other Massachusetts communities with similar charters, and prevailed in court. The litigation director for the organization said in September it would behoove the City to move voluntarily to end the practice before litigation is filed to end it by court order – a process that cost one Massachusetts community more than $1 million to fight.

The Council voted to postpone the issue for one month, allowing the City Solicitor and the City Clerk time to meet with outside counsel to determine if the charter change could be done by way of a Home Rule Petition or if it would need to be presented to the public for a vote.

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