The emergence last week of a citizen group, Committee for an Open Waterfront (COW), to oppose construction on the river adds another issue to the community's political agenda.
This spring, residents will have numerous action items to discuss and/or decide: funding of three building projects (elementary and middle schools and senior/community center), the merits of a Local Historic District, the proposed rezoning of Storey Avenue and now the waterfront.
Mayor Donna Holaday will have a full schedule this spring as she presents her thinking on each issue.
This year will be among the last when the mayor of Newburyport operates without a bully pulpit.
(An aside: The term bully pulpit was coined by President Theodore Roosevelt, who referred to the White House as a "bully pulpit," by which he meant an effective platform from which to advocate an agenda.)
For decades the mayor has been restricted from attending meetings of the City Council.
Odd, but true, that the city's top elected official sits in her office watching the council proceedings on in-house television in her office.
Most mayors, of course, have a seat in council chambers and provide a leadership role at each session.
They often introduce new measures from the podium and are in a position to explain their thinking in the presence of not only those who attend but to the media and the camera from cable television.
But Holaday's opportunities to stand and deliver in the council chambers have been limited.
The new charter changes this dated rule; and beginning in 2014, the mayor will attend each council meeting in a leadership role.
But for now, Holaday finds herself sequestered in her corner office when it is likely she would like to have a more visible role.
That doesn't mean she is not getting the word out. Holaday convenes numerous meetings in her office and speaks frequently at citizen gatherings.
But her tenure will be remembered for (among other things) the last term when a mayor was not present in the council chambers.
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It is too early to tell whether the COW organization can energize the community as was the case in the '70s and the '80s.
One dimension at play is how does one define "open waterfront."
Holaday, who is cooperating with the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, is resolute in saying that she is working for an open waterfront.
That vision, according to her recent memo to the City Council, could include an "appropriate mix" of cafes, restaurants and residences.
She said she would anticipate less parking adjacent to the river and more park space.
Holaday has suggested that the city might sell a few small parcels, perhaps along Water Street, to pay the costs of developing park grounds.
Again, she says her ultimate goal is open space on the river.
Members of the Committee for an Open Waterfront say they are against any construction.
Among its goals are maintaining unobstructed views of the river from Merrimac, Water and Green streets.
Another goal is "assuring the preservation of an open central waterfront, free from additional buildings."
Lon Hachmeister, a member of COW's steering committee, said that Seattle's urban waterfront was earmarked for commercial construction years ago, but residents raised money to develop people-friendly parks.
So, as the debate heats up this spring, those discussing the issue might want to be specific on their definition of an "open waterfront."
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In terms of the democratic process, decisions will be made through a variety of processes.
Regarding the LHD and rezoning on Storey Avenue, the City Council will be making the decisions.
A super-majority of eight votes (out of 11) is required for passage.
Regarding votes on a new Bresnahan School, renovations on the Nock-Molin complex and construction of a senior/community center, residents will vote on June 5.
There will be three separate questions.
And regarding decisions on the waterfront, the NRA appears to have the authority to approve a plan.
Asked if the City Council has to approve an NRA recommendation if the NRA accepts a plan from a developer, Chairman James Shanley said, "Technically, no."
He said there are so many processes and public hearings in the future, that it will take many months before any plan can be considered.
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The tax collector's office is planning to place tax liens on all properties with prior year outstanding real estate taxes, city officials say.
This process includes publishing the names of all delinquent property owners in the newspaper, as required by state law.
City officials say that if you think you may have overdue taxes and wish to discuss this process, contact the collector's office at 978-465-4415.
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The following meetings are scheduled this week and are open to the public:
Joint Education Subcommittee of School Committee, 5:30 p.m., Room 118, high school.
Budget and Finance Committee, 5:30 p.m., high school.
School Committee, 6:30 p.m., School Committee
Committee on Diversity and Tolerance, 3 p.m., City Hall.
Moseley Commission, 6 p.m., 61 State St.
River Valley Charter School Finance Committee, 6 p.m., 2 Perry Way.
Conservation Commission, 6:30 p.m., City Council chambers.
River Valley Charter School Executive Committee, 7 p.m., 2 Perry Way.
Senior Center Building Committee, 5:30 p.m., Salvation Army, 40 Water St.
Licensing Commission, 7 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.
Planning Board, 7 p.m., City Hall.
Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, 7 p.m., library, 94 State St.
Open Space Committee, 7 p.m., police conference room, 4 Green St.
Highland Cemetery Commission, 7 p.m., library.
World war Memorial Stadium Project, 7 p.m., City Hall.
Historical Commission, 7:30 p.m., City Council Chambers.
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Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport for The Daily News. He can be reached at 978-462-6666, ext. 3226, or at email@example.com.