2023 City Charter Ballot Question
SPECIAL EDITION MAYOR'S UPDATE VIDEO REGARDING THE BALLOT QUESTION
INFORMATION ON PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE CITY CHARTER
The City Charter of the City of Gardner was originally adopted in 1921 and took effect in 1923.
To read the current version of the City Charter in full: CLICK HERE
A break down of all of the proposed amendments to the City Charter can be found in this document. Please note, that while this document explains the impact of each individual amendment, the final product will have all amendments as one package. CLICK HERE to read the document.
What does a non-binding ballot question mean and why was this selected for this question?
A non-binding public policy question is a question presented to voters only in a City/Town asking the voters to give non-binding instructions to their local elected officials on specific topics.
In this case, the City Council is asking the voters of the City whether or not they would like to see the City Council send the proposed amendments to the City Charter as a Home Rule Petition.
The City Council voted to have this question on the ballot as a non-binding question, following the recommendations of the Secretary of the Commonwealth's Office, because the item is something that was not required by law to be on the ballot and because the actual vote that amends the City Charter itself is the vote of the state legislature - the House of Representatives and State Senate - and the signature of the governor, not the vote of the voters in the election. The vote decided by the voters in the election simply gives instructions to the City Council on what the voters would like the City Council to do with the document.
For More information on Non-Binding Ballot Questions, see Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 53, Section 18A
What is a Home Rule Petition?
In Massachusetts, cities have limited powers under state law. A Home Rule Petition is a request from a city for a new type of power from the state legislature—for example, the power to enact a new tax or regulation, or an exemption from an aspect of state law. If a proposed Home Rule Petition is passed locally, the city government sends the bill to its State Representatives and State Senators, who seek to pass it in the legislature as a state law that would only affect the one municipality.
To Learn more about what a Home Rule Petition is CLICK HERE
To Learn about the process to authorize a Home Rule Petition, CLICK HERE
What am I being asked to vote on?
The question on the ballot will ask something similar to the question of "Should the City Council of the City of Gardner submit a Home Rule Petition to the State Legislature to approve the amendments to the City Charter that were approved at the City Council Meeting of August 29, 2023?"
A "yes" vote means that you, as the voter, would like to see the City Council send the home rule petition to the General Court (the State Legislature) for them to approve.
A "no" vote means that you, as the voter, would not like to see the home rule petition be submitted to the General Court for approval.
What is the process after the election?
After the election is over, the item will be back before the City Council. The City Council can then vote whether or not to submit the Home Rule Petition to the area's legislative delegation for them to file the Home Rule Petition with the House of Representatives and Senate for them to consider. This would require a vote of eight members of the City Council or a 2/3 majority vote. Since the City's senate seat is currently vacant, it would have to be submitted to State Representative Jon Zlotnik for him to file with the House of Representatives.
If the question is a non-binding question, what if the voters vote no? Can the City Council still vote to send the Home Rule Petition to the State for approval?
Technically, yes. However, there are other safeguards in place to make sure the will of the voters is followed.
Firstly, IF the City Council votes to send the Home Rule Petition to the General Court (State Legislature), the Mayor has ten (10) days to decide to either sign their vote or veto it. If the Mayor veto's the vote to send the item to the General Court, state law does not allow the City Council to override that veto, and it ends the process.
Furthermore, the City's legislative delegation is also under no legal obligation to file the bill with the General Court, whether the question was a binding question or not.
As such, there are certain protections in place, besides just the vote of the City Council to make sure the will of the voters is followed, even though the question is a non-binding question.
When did this process to amend the City Charter begin?
Mayor Nicholson requested that the City Council create a Special Act Charter Drafting Committee in August of 2022. For a full timeline of this process, CLICK HERE.
Where can I find the public hearing that was held on amending the City Charter?
The Special Act Charter Drafting Committee held a public hearing on amending the City Charter and what, if anything, should be amended on February 23, 2023. A video of that public hearing can be found on the City's YouTube page by CLICKING HERE.
Massachusetts law outlines two different ways that a City Charter can be amended - one through an elected Charter Commission and one through a Special Act done as a home rule petition. This process is following the Special Act process.
An outline of this process can be found by reviewing the "Special Act" section of the guidance put out by the Commonwealth by CLICKING HERE
The proposed changes say Sections 34 and 35 are in conflict with state law. Where can I find what state laws they are in conflict with?
To find a breakdown of the Commonwealth's procurement/contracting laws and their details, please CLICK HERE