, Newburyport, MA

November 4, 2009

Port residents approve charter review, choose nine for commission

By Will Courtney

NEWBURYPORT — A Yankee Homecoming chairwoman, two former city councilors, two current School Committee members, a retired high school teacher, the chairman of the Tree Committee and an interior designer will review the city's governing document and send potential changes to voters in two years.

Ed Cameron, a city councilor who took a lead role in bringing the charter review to voters, thinks voters tabbed a great group of citizens to take on the arduous task.

"I think it's a remarkable group of people who have been in office and newcomers, a great mix of experience and energy," Cameron said last night. "There are many other good candidates who didn't quite make it and I hope they stay involved. I think there will be a lot of public opportunities to get involved."

Voters were asked to choose whether the city should create a commission to review the city's charter, its governing document, for changes. Below that on the ballot were 20 candidates vying for nine seats on that commission.

The commission will be charged with bringing potential changes to the charter, from term lengths for elected positions to whether the city wants a mayoral form of government, to voters in 2011 in a single ballot question. The review will last 16 months.

Though 500 ballots were left blank on the ballot question, voters overwhelmingly approved reopening the charter to the commission by a near 3-1 ratio.

But for many voters, the charter was a big reason they came to the polls.

"The charter commission is extremely important; the city is really at a turning point in terms of government form," said Kathleen Melanson as she left the Bresnahan School. "It's important to analyze now whether we are going to move forward or want things to change."

Laura Allgrove agreed.

"The charter was important to me," she said. "I think it's a good idea to review and maybe see if things need to change."

Kathleen Bailey, a real estate manager who chaired Yankee Homecoming this year, was the top vote-getter. A relative newcomer to the city, she said she did some campaigning through fliers, postcards, a blog and e-mails, expressing that she wants an open process.

"I think the key to it is keep it open and transparent to the public about what's going on, so when we get to the end of it, we don't come up with something the people won't vote on," she said.

Based on the unofficial vote tally last night, the others voted to the commission, in alphabetical order, were:

C. Bruce Brown, a former city councilor and Waterfront Trust member whose son is U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown;

Steven P. Cole, a lifetime Newburyport resident who is a member of the School Committee;

Roger Gagnon, a history teacher for 36 years at Newburyport High School who recently retired;

Hugh Kelleher, executive director of the Plumbing Contractors Association of Greater Boston who chairs the city's Tree Committee;

Bruce Menin, a nonprofit administrator who was re-elected to a fourth term on the School Committee last night;

Sheila Mullins, an interior designer who has lived in Newburyport for 22 years;

James Stiles, a data manager and environmental examiner who was runner-up for mayor two years ago;

and Bruce L. Vogel, a regional manager for an e-mail service provider who served four years on City Council.