Area Councils

On Wednesday, September 14, the Charter Commission will be holding a public hearing and discussion panel on Area Councils.  Area Councils are described in Article 9 of the Newton City Charter:

“It is the purpose of this article to encourage citizen involvement in government at the neighborhood level by permitting limited self-government through the establishment of neighborhood area councils as legal entities of the city government.”

The first Area Council was created in Newton Highlands in 1971.  The next Area Council wasn’t created until 2011, when under the leadership of Ward 5’s Ward Councilor John Rice, Newton Upper Falls established its own Area Council.  Councilor Rice then completed Area Council coverage of Ward 5 by supporting an Area Council effort for Waban.  Newtonville was the next village to establish an Area Council, but since then, no other village has taken the plunge.

What do you think of Area Councils?  For those who live in villages without one, do want one?  For those who live in the Highlands, Upper Falls, Waban, and Newtonville, are you happy with your Area Council? Unhappy?  What changes would you like to see in your Area Council?  With the possible reduction of the City Council, are more Area Councils needed?

(Disclosure: I am the President of the Newton Upper Falls Area Council and a supporter of area councils.)

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Elaine Rush ArrudaAnil AdyanthayaJanet Sterman Recent comment authors
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Tom Sheff

Area councils should be established in all villages. If the Charter Comm keeps their recommendation to cut the size of the Board, something I support heavily, the need for area councils will be greater. Some overflow work from the Board should be given to Area councils, if possible. If the Charter commission keep their proposal for no ward councilors, the area council can play a new role in politics, maybe resolving some local ward issues without bothering the Board…if that’s possible. I am figuring that special permits will be given to a commission of experienced citizens to deal with and the area council can pick up the slack in other areas to take the workload away from the Board. This is an opportunity to really make significant improvements to the political system. Just my thoughts

Janet Sterman

I would love to hear the benefits of Area Councils in Newton. I agree there is a need for neighborhood groups and or associations, but with no authority or actual legal influence over city government, why must this be a function of city government at all? Perhaps someone can explain the benefits of the UF Area Council over the UF Development Corporation or the Waban Area Council over the Waban Improvement Society.

This is a large topic, let me respond to a piece of it. As a longtime board member of the Waban Improvement Society (WIS) and as a founding member of the Waban Area Council (WAC), my view is their roles have evolved in a complementary fashion. While the WIS functioned like an EDC in the early days of its 100 plus year history, as Waban greatly evolved, it became more focused on community building activities like Village Day, Progressive Dinner, Beautification, and no small task: running the Library. However it was apparent to me the village still needed to address infrastructural issues such as traffic concerns from the 128 Route 9 redesign and the new schools, flooding, freeway sound barriers, and development. Realizing the city was making decisions about Waban without formal community input, it made perfect sense to form an Area Council with elected representation to address these issues. After 3 years, I believe the WAC has made its mark and has filled this need admirably and with dedicated people, it will get even better. People choose their battles and both organizations offer considerably different kinds of volunteer opportunities. Indeed, perhaps the greatest gain of separate organizations is more volunteers from Waban are involved. Another good division of roles is apparent with Open Meeting Law. While the WAC must abide by Open Meeting Law which makes sense for their issues, it would be a burden for WIS with politically neutral objectives. The WIS is also a 501c3 non-profit and… Read more »

Elaine Rush Arruda

I live in Auburndale where there is NOT yet an area council and I believe we desperately need one. The villages that do have one truly have a “seat at the table.” As for the Charter Commission recommending eliminating Ward Councilors (which I vehemently oppose) if they also mess with area councils, I will blow a gasket. Newton’s villages are so different and have varying needs, which must be represented at City Hall, ideally by BOTH Ward Councilors AND Area Councils