Councilor Lydia Edwards Calls for Review of City of Boston Charter

Councilor Lydia Edwards introduced a hearing order to review the Charter of the City of Boston this week.

The City Charter defines the powers and responsibilities of local government – from the Mayor and Council to the School Committee and other governing bodies, from elections and budgetary procedures to planning, zoning, the ability to nominate members of boards and commissions, and numerous other matters affecting the city government.

“Bostonians deserve a government that is responsive to the needs of their daily lives and tackles the fundamental challenges of our time,” said Councilor Edwards. “It’s critical we ask residents whether the structure of city government today is capable of delivering what the people want.”

Boston adopted a modern charter in 1909, and subsequently amended, or had altered by action of the state legislature, the City’s Charter and critical powers and functions of government through special acts, in the years 1924, 1948, 1951, 1956, 1969, 1982, 1986, 1991, and 1993. Uniquely in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Boston’s Charter is a “patchwork of special acts” rather than a uniform document. This makes analysis and amendment of Boston’s form of government complex and reliant on substantial legal and legislative interpretation, including a history of court rulings.

In recent years, community members and members of the Council have highlighted issues relevant to the charter, including the budgetary powers of the City, its officials, and individual residents through participatory budgeting; the governance of the school committee, including the appointment or election of members and voting powers of student members of the body; the planning and development functions of the city; and numerous other issues.

“It is critical the form of government in the City of Boston involve, activate and empower residents of our City in holistic and democratic deliberation over the future of our communities,” continued Edwards. “Over the past two years, it has been my blessing to meet with many advocates, including the late Councilor Turner, to discuss the structure and limits of city government and I believe it is now time to engage in an inclusive, citywide discussion.”

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