By Katie Farrell Lovett and Lauren Kelleher
NEWBURYPORT — Just when it seemed there was a level of apathy citywide to run for public office, 20 citizens will vie for nine seats on the city's Charter Commission at the Nov. 3 election.
In November, voters will be asked to both decide on the ballot question that would create the Charter Commission and vote for the members who would make up the board.
Efforts to form a Charter Commission and to spark residents to run for the proposed board has been a months-long process for a group of citizens in the city. Candidates had until Tuesday to return their nomination forms.
The charter, the city's governing document, hasn't undergone a review since 1919 — 10 years before the Great Depression and decades before color television.
"This is something that many of us think is way overdue," Ward 4 Councilor Ed Cameron said at a public forum last week. "1919 was a long time ago, and the world has changed in many ways. It's important that people to look at our structure to make sure that we are best serving our population."
The Charter Commission would be charged with rewriting whichever portions of the city's current charter it deems necessary. This could mean anything from changing the length of a mayoral term to choosing an entirely new form of government.
Currently, Newburyport has a "Plan B" form of government, in which the legislative body is composed of a mayor and an 11-member City Council, with five councilors elected at-large and six representing the city's wards.
Cameron was among several citizens to spearhead the efforts to launch the charter review process. That process included gathering signatures from 15 percent of Newburyport's registered voters to get the question of forming a Charter Commission on the ballot. More than 2,200 signatures were collected, allowing the process to move ahead.
Cameron said yesterday he was pleased by the number of candidates that came forward. The ad-hoc committee is considering holding candidate nights and will distribute candidate biographies as the election approaches in order for voters to hear from the candidate pool, he added.
"I just think that it shows that there are people wanting to get involved out there," Cameron said.
With a quiet election season underway, Cameron said he thinks people chose to run for the Charter Commission, although the City Council and School Committee fields are sparse, because of the chance to form the city's government. Committee members will look at "the structure and skeleton" of the city versus dealing with the issues facing the legislative bodies, he said.
Still, it's not certain there will even be a commission.
Voters will need to pass a ballot question during the election to form a committee to review the charter in the first place, while also casting a vote for who they think should serve on it.
The Charter Commission ad-hoc committee held the public forum last week in hopes of educating citizens about the process. Addressing the meeting were Tom Riley, president of the Winthrop Town Council, and Steve McGoldrick, of the Collins Center for Public Management at UMass Boston.
Riley and McGoldrick offered remarks and fielded questions, which ranged from whether charter commission meetings will be open to the public to the avenues for amending the charter after it is redrafted and voted on by Newburyport residents.
Striving for consensus among commission members was essential in drafting a new charter, Riley told the audience. He added that getting a new charter passed is twice as hard as getting the votes to review it. Riley was a member of the Winthrop Charter Commission when the town voted to draft the document in 2004.
McGoldrick said if a commission to review the charter is approved by voters, it will have two years to modify the current 23-page document.
The rewritten charter would be distributed to Newburyport residents in time for the 2011 elections, and they will be able to vote on whether its amended measures should be enacted, McGoldrick said.
At-large Councilor and mayoral candidate Donna Holaday asked McGoldrick what it would mean for the 2011 municipal elections, if a redrafted charter eliminated offices and replaced them with something else, like a mayor with a city manager.
Any changes of this nature would not take effect until the following elections in 2013, McGoldrick said.
A copy of the city's current charter can be viewed under "City Ordinances" at www.cityofnewburyport.com. For more information on the charter commission, visit the blog at www.newburyportcharterreview.wordpress.com.
Charter Commission candidates
Olga S. MacFarlane, 6 Clipper Way
Cynthia S. Muir, 10 Hancock St.
Alexander Z. Warren, 8 Maple St.
David R. Clarridge, 15R Bromfield St. #2
Paul M. Bevilacqua, 126 Merrimac St., Unit 3
Thomas Tolman Lyons, 8 Oak St.
Douglas A. Locy, 17 Alberta Ave.
Sheila A. Mullins, 7 Parsons St.
James A. Stiles, 28 Strong St.
Kathleen E. Bailey. 109 Water St.
Bruce L. Vogel, 28 Myrtle Ave.
Kenneth A. Woods, 18 Temple St.
Steven P. Cole, 8 Hallisey Drive
Bruce M. Menin, 83 Lime St.
Bonnie P. Perkins, 27 Virginia Lane
Thomas L. Salemi, 29 Oakland St.
Roger A. Gagnon, 320 High St.
Janet K. Marcus, 25 Tyng St.
Hugh Kelleher, 8 Summit Place
C. Bruce Brown, 5 78th St.