To start the discussion, which it did even with the 11 p.m. deadline to end the meeting drawing near, Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson outlined a vision to lengthen terms, implement term limits of the council and mayor and change the composition of the School Committee Monday night. At Vella-Wilkinson’s request, further discussion to place a question or questions on the ballot was held until the May 12 council meeting.
Under her proposal, the terms of the mayor and council members would be lengthened from two to four years to coincide with those of the school committee. However, Vella-Wilkinson would also impose a two-term limit – a total of eight years – for the mayor, council and committee.
As for the composition of the school committee, she suggests expanding the existing five-member committee to seven members. The committee is now made up of two at-large members and three members elected by districts comprised to three wards each. Districts roughly conform to each of the system’s three high school districts.
Under Vella-Wilkinson’s plan, three district members would continue to be elected while the majority of four would be appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the City Council.
Making any changes to the terms, imposing term limits or altering the composition of the school committee would require a charter change and voter approval. Vella-Wilkinson would have the question(s) on the November ballot.
But, as evidenced Monday, simply getting the council to agree to what appears on the ballot may not be easy.
With it being 10:32 p.m. and a self-imposed deadline of 10:45 to enter into executive session approaching, Vella-Wilkinson had no intention of the council taking a position Monday night.
“My goal is to start the conversation,” she said.
She said that according to a 2011 study endorsed by the mayor and the council, the school committee with five members was deemed “exceptionally small.” However, altering the current composition and means of naming the committee was seen as being controversial. Vella-Wilkinson pointed out communities have chosen different models, from an all-appointed committee to entirely elected panel, as is the case here. Her suggestion would be a mix of the two.
Among her colleagues, Vella-Wilkinson found support for four-year instead of two-year terms. She said freshmen members of the council find it especially difficult, as no sooner do they get a feel for the job then they are faced with running for re-election. Her arguments for term limits were to stimulate interest in elective office and to make it easier for newcomers while reducing costs for the candidates.
Council President Donna Travis questioned whether she could support term limits, as she felt that would be hypocritical after personally being re-elected so many times.
“This is not reflective of any work being done here,” said Vella-Wilkinson. “This is not an indictment.”
Eventually, Vella-Wilkinson said, the public would decide.
“This is about giving the general public a voice,” she said.