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City Council wants four-year terms? Galvin has another idea

Secretary of State William Galvin, who oversees the state’s elections system, said he has been watching from his Beacon Hill office the City Council’s effort to extend members’ terms to four years. And he doesn’t like it. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File 2018/Globe Staff

Secretary of State William Galvin, who oversees the state’s elections system, said he has been watching from his Beacon Hill office the City Council’s effort to extend members’ terms to four years.

And he doesn’t like it.

Galvin argued that councilors should be deferring to the ballot box, saying in an interview that voters should be able to decide on an issue that has such large ramifications as the structure of the city’s government.

“It’s always been the issue, not just in Boston but anywhere; when you talk about the change of government, it should be subject to the referendum of the people,” Galvin said.

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The issue is somewhat personal to him. As a state lawmaker in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he helped push for a referendum that changed the makeup of the council to include nine district councilors committed to different neighborhoods, along with four at-large councilors serving citywide.

Galvin said he felt strongly at the time that certain neighborhoods “were going unrepresented.”

He said he wasn’t weighing in on the merits of the proposal (“that’s for another conversation,” he said). City councilors who supported the measure argued an extended term from two to four years would allow councilors more time to focus on their work representing their constituencies, without having to campaign for an election every other year.

The measure passed by an 11-2 vote, and was sent to the Legislature seeking final approval in the form of a home rule petition.

But Galvin said it shouldn’t be up to state lawmakers, either.

There’s no rule that would require the city to host a referendum for voters.

But Galvin said the spirit of the law should put that mandate on the council. The council’s proposal would have the newer terms go into effect after the 2021 election. Galvin said councilors should scramble to have the question listed on this fall’s ballot if they want to do it by then.

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“The idea of not having the people vote on it is absurd,” he said. “The point is the voters created the current system, the voters have always had control . . . so to do something without the voters is wrong.”

City Council President Andrea Campbell, who sponsored the proposal, was traveling last week and was not available for comment. But Councilor Frank Baker, who proposed the measure two years ago only to see it die in the Legislature, said Galvin may have a point. If state legislators, for whatever reason, are unwilling to take up the matter, let voters, Baker said.

“If the voters say it, it will carry a lot more weight,” he said. “I, of course, would like to see it.”

One councilor whom Galvin can’t have any issue with (at least on this matter) is Josh Zakim, from the Back Bay, who unsuccessfully challenged Galvin in last fall’s primary.

Zakim was one of the councilors who opposed the measure.


Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.