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Methuen's Charter
Methuen Councilor Billy Manzi

A City Council committee chaired by City Councilor Linda Dean Campbell is reviewing Methuen’s home rule charter, essentially the “consti-tution” of the City. 

With some of the debate recently over charter authority, it seems an opportune time to write about some of the issues being reviewed.

Since the committee was formed as a consequence of a proposal to extend the mayoral term to four years, let us start there. The lines of this discussion are pretty clear.

The proponents of change (myself included) point to the short duration of the two-year term, with a mayor being forced into re-election mode (political mode) after one year, with politics dominating the landscape. Opponents point to the need to keep politicians accountable, with a shorter term bringing greater accountability to the Mayor’s office.

A further debate has centered on the offices of the City Auditor and the City Solicitor. Currently, the City Council hires both the Auditor and the Solicitor. Both of these offices technically report to the City Council President, but there are some who believe that both of these important positions should be part of the Mayoral administration and treated in the same fashion as the other department heads.

Opponents of change in this area point to the need to maintain an administrative check on Mayoral power. During my tenure on the Methuen City Council, I have steadfastly supported the maintenance of the status quo in this area, feeling that the existing system provided the necessary checks and balances. Now that I am a declared Mayoral candidate, the question often arises as to whether my position would change were I to be elected.

I believe that Methuen’s system has allowed us to strike a great balance politically, no matter which side you come down on. Based on that, at least for today, I still believe the current system serves Methuen best.

A third question that arises is the term limit question, and the debate on this can be fierce. Methuen has imposed term limits on the City Council, the School Committee, and the Mayor.

While it has modified the absolute lifetime limit once, the existing system still can (and will) lead to a situation where a new Mayor and a predominantly new City Council will take office together. Some see that lack of experience as a potential problem; others see it as a breath of fresh political air. It is my belief that you need a balance of experience and exuberance.

Certainly a change to some sort of staggered election system could solve the problem of an experienced group all going out together without changing term limits. It would seem to me that one of the main arguments in favor of term limits, the ability to get rid of ”entrenched” incumbents, is not really relevant here, especially with regard to the City Council and School Committee.

The real edge that incumbents have is a greater ability to raise campaign funds. Since fundraising is not really a big issue with regard to the School Committee and City Council, the traditional edge for incumbents with “big war chests” simply doesn’t apply. I do believe at the Mayoral level such a fundraising advantage does accrue to the incumbent, and based on that would continue to support a term limit for Mayors.

Those are only three areas that may be reviewed by the committee chaired by Councilor Campbell. If you have any ideas, comments or suggestions, please contact Councilor Campbell at 978-794-3208 or by email at campbellhome@comcast.net. The Charter continues to be the most important political document in Methuen, and any changes should be carefully considered with maximum public input.

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Prior Columns by Billy Manzi