It is hard to believe when you see how beautiful Newburyport is that most of it has come about through royal political battles. The lovely waterfront, the boardwalk, the downtown – all scenes of pitched warfare that were close to proverbial bloodbaths.
It reminds me that our precious City is constantly at threat – hungry developers, ignorant (and not so ignorant) homeowners and power-mad bureaucrats and politicians are constantly scheming to exploit and destroy the good things we have here.
Well we just narrowly escaped a terrible fate that happily will not be.
I have been very pleased over all with the attitude and conduct of the Charter Commission. They’re motto has been from the start, “If it ain’t broke, don’t ‘fix’ it.” Much of the structure of our present City government including the school district has been retained. The prospect of a stable, four-year Mayor, has been the wish of the vast majority of citizens even reflected in their own survey and the majority fulfilled that desire.
But unfortunately a cabal of charter commission members, upset over the inability to get a city manger instituted tried to pull in a ringer.
They have decided to give the new mayor the power to appoint the chairs of the major boards and commissions in the City. (Conservation Commission, Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals) This would have at first look a nominal affect since the provision requires appointing someone already on the board.
It becomes deadly dangerous if someone resigns – in affect – the Mayor can take his or her new appointee and put the ‘stranger’ immediately into the position of chair! Therefore giving the Mayor the power to meld these volunteer boards into tools for his/her political agenda. Which is exactly why these commissioners have inserted this provision. They want a Strong-arm Mayor.
Can you imagine if Mayor Byron Matthews had this kind of power back when we were under the Newburyport Urban Renewal phase. He thought this whole preservation movement was a joke. In contrast, level-headed and semi-independent boards and commissions gave voice to the preservation of our downtown. Instead of our beautiful streets, we would have been stuck with a failed, ‘dead’ downtown like they have presently in Haverhill. That city tore down a significant amount of historic buildings and put in housing, modern buildings, a seafood ‘touristy’ restaurant on the water…and a strip mall. Exactly what was called for in the early days of Newburyport’s Urban Plan. Today, no one walks around in that section of Haverhill, the seafood restaurant is now a weed-choked empty lot and the urban life of that part of town is literally sucked dry*.
Let’s say we have a future Mayor now with a four year term with no sympathy toward historic preservation or eco-tourism or heritage tourism and wants to pave the way for his developer friends. Without the checks and balances of independent boards and commissions, the Mayor’s agenda would be pushed through with each group kowtowed by the prospect of a Mayor-appointee running the agenda and taking orders from the corner office. The political lackeys! The acrimony! The Cronyism!
The result would be a frustrated minority, wanting good, representative government, constantly being stymied by strong-arm politics! And worst, average citizens, not seeing the point of participating when they only will be ‘yes-men’; leaving the boards and commissions to more of the Mayor’s lackey’s!
Wouldn’t happen in Newburyport, some would say. Yeah, right.
What we would end up is a conservation commission that doesn’t conserve open space, watersheds and wetlands; a planning board that doesn’t plan; and a zoning board of appeals that is compromised by manipulative politics.
If this provision had not been removed from the Charter, as much as I approve of 98% of the new provisions; I would have actively campaigned against it. And I know many in the community were preparing to do the same.
We’d all do it just to protect our open spaces, our city planning, our historic buildings and our quality of life.
Yes, it was THAT potentially dangerous. This new provision could have endangered them all.
Fortunately, the majority of commissioners were courageous and removed this measure last night.
Whew, that was close!
*Haverhill learned from their lesson. On the other side of town, they instituted a local historic district which has revitalized their restaurants, added small, vibrant shops and now it is a busy – highly desirable section of town.