^ Barcelona’s “Consell de Cent” — 750 years since its founding; one year term, scant pay. But it works. Why is Boston’s Council moving in the opposite direction ?
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Boston’s City Council has just voted to extend its term of office from two to four years. The vote was 12 to one. Only Council President Michelle Wu voted “no.”
The proposal has no chance; the Mayor has to OK it, and then it must gain a majority vote from each branch of the legislature and be signed by the Governor. Not damn likely.
Nonetheless, the proposal is a very, very bad one. Were it to pass, it would, in this age of citizen activism, almost guarantee frequent ballot referenda; maybe even recall elections. The Council argues that the interim election, in years when the mayor is not up for re-election, is expensive and useless, considering the small turnout of voters. Yet were the Council be unanswerable to the voters for four years, there might easily be MORE elections, not less.
As for the argument of expense — to the taxpayers — if taxes are not a duty when used to pay for holding elections, when are they a duty ? Elections are the basic DNA of democracy; fewer elections, less democracy. We probably can’t have elections every year, as city councils almost always did 100 years ago and more, but two years seems a good compromise between constant elections and rare. Two years to take a time out and seek voter approval, or not, of the Council’s record of…whatever.
City Councils, in the Western world, began almost 1000 years ago. Councillors, mostly merchants, artisans and workmen, were active, numerous, and termed to one year at a time. That’;s how it was throughout Europe, where the idea of having city leaders govern themselves took hold.
Perhaps Boston’s Council does need reform. Make it bigger — 25 members, as it was before the 1909 Charter Change, pay the members half of what they make now, and give them 18 month terms. Barcelona’s 13th Century “Consell de Cent” had, as its name states, 100 members. As an institution it lasted for 400-odd years and is back in business again. Venice’s Council lasted even longer. Why not have a Council of 100 in Boston, paid a lot less and drawn by design from artisans, workmen, and merchants ?
It’s also laughable that the Council speaks o expense where elections are concerned but is oh-so-ready to demand more and more taxpayer money for a Boston Schools budget that is already way too obese with inefficiencies, redundancy, and feather beddings. Our Schools Budget holds probably $ 115 million of excess poundage, but somehow that;s OK, while the approximately $ 1,000,000 cost of an election is “expensive.”
Who makes these decisions in the Council’s chambers ? Are they really that tone deaf ? That contradictory ? Do they think the voters of Boston are fools ?
I think the answers to those questions are ( 1 ) rogues ( 2 ) yes and ( 3 ) yes.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere