HAVERHILL — After more than 50 years, Haverhill's traditional form of city government could be dissolving come November – this according to Mayor James Fiorentini, who hinted Monday at his plan for a new “let the people vote” campaign in support of ward council representation.
During his inaugural address from City Hall after taking his historic ninth oath of office, Fiorentini voiced his support for a shift from the current model of government, a nine-member City Council, to a mix of district and at-large councilors.
“It's important that every neighborhood has a seat at the table,” Fiorentini told the crowd.
The so-called “let the people vote” campaign, Fiorentini said, plays into part of Haverhill's master plan, set to be confirmed by the Planning Board on Wednesday night. As outlined in the plan, Haverhill would see eight “village centers,” or clusters of pedestrian-friendly walkable areas.
Fiorentini said he hopes to present his campaign to the City Council — now chaired by Melinda Barrett — for possible inclusion on the November 2020 municipal election ballot.
“'Let the people vote' will ask our elected officials to allow the public to decide this year if they want this change or not,” he explained.
The mayor chose to present his plan to the council after careful consideration of how other municipalities, like Methuen, Amesbury and Lowell, handle ward representation. He also recalled his time as a Boston City Council intern when that group went from at-large to ward councilors.
Such a shift can be confirmed in one of three ways, Fiorentini said. The Legislature can sign a home rule petition that is voted upon by residents; a charter commission could be formed to approach the Legislature with a request that is then voted upon by residents, or — as is Fiorentini's preference — the idea could simply be put to the public at large via the ballot.
“Haverhill had 21 alderman at the turn of the last century,” Fiorentini said. “Most modern cities and towns have a mix of ward and district councilors. I think it's a good constituent service. People now will hopefully know who their councilors are. They call us to ask who their ward councilors are, and we tell them to call anybody. It's a much less expensive way to run for office, so it would open it up to more people. I think it's a better way to go.”
Fiorentini, who first championed the idea of the governmental shift at his campaign kickoff last summer, is not alone in his support for ward representation in Haverhill. City Councilor Bill Macek proposed a review of the overall charter in early August, while council candidates Nick Golden and Joe Sherlock advocated for it during their runs for office last year.