Here is a Google video of the complete January 8 meeting of Northampton’s Best Practices Committee. This video is 1 hour and 43 minutes long and was recorded by Ken Mitchell. There will be a Best Practices Public Forum on Draft Recommendations on Wednesday, February 11, 7pm in the Community Room of J.F.K. Middle School, 100 Bridge Road in Florence.
Here are the January 8 meeting minutes (pending approval):
Minutes of the Meeting of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Best Practices in Northampton
Decision Making of Jan. 8, 2009. The meeting was called to order at 6 PM in the Board
Room of the DPW.
Present were committee members Jim Palermo, Michael Bardsley, Wendy Foxmyn,
Alex Ghiselin, David Narkewicz and Bob Reckman. Jesus Leyva and Ken Mitchell were
present as members of the public. Ken taped the meeting for future video cast. Lisa
DePiano was not present. Decisions made are in bold text below.
Wendy asked what we plan to do between now and March 5 when our report is due.
She suggested that we ask the Florence Civic and Business Association if they are
interested in hosting an event. Alex suggested that we try to target smaller groups such
as City Department heads and the big group of neighborhood groups. Jim asked what
our purpose was for such meetings. Jesus suggested that we post our recommendation
on the Paradise City Forum. Michael suggested that we could delegate committee
members to meet with neighborhood groups. Bob expressed skepticism that we would
generate any significant suggestions. Ken suggested that we make more specific
recommendations. Wendy said that she thinks we have done a very good job and
should feel proud of our product. She is not particularly interested in more outreach
and would prefer to meet relatively few times before our final report. David suggested
that we reach out electronically to a number of groups such as neighborhood and City
list serves. Jesus suggested we ask the Advocate to write an article about our
recommendations. Wendy suggested an op-ed piece for the Gazette. There was some
discussion about when it would be best timed. There was some support for at least one
additional forum. There was agreement that we would try to widely distribute the
one page list of our draft recommendations electronically. David pointed out that
the resolution that created us says the City Council will refer our recommendations to its
committees for further action. We agreed that we would try to get the Gazette and
the Advocate to print out entire recommendations as soon as possible. David will
format them and he and Bob will talk to the papers. Wendy will create an executive
summary which can be used for our op-ed printed around the time we issue our final
report and get it to us for review. Bob suggested that we talk to the editorial board of
the Gazette and that we consider trying to put price tags on our recommendations. Jim
was skeptical about our ability to determine plausible costs. David thinks that the
Council might be able to do this as well. Michael suggested that our time would be
better spent detailing our recommendations and he will work on specifics. We agreed
that we would try to have another forum at the Florence Civic and Business
Association the week of February 9. Alex will contact the Association and let us know
as soon as possible what dates are available. We will tell the public we need their
comments by Feb. 13.
Our next meeting will be on Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 4 PM at the BPW. Bob will reserve
the room and post the meeting. If it is not available, he will make other arrangements
and let people know.
We talked about the comments from Monday evening. We agreed that all the
suggestions on recommendation #1 should be listed simply as comments rather than
being incorporated into our bullet points. The comments on #2 were similarly received
with the exception that we thought the suggestion that City School could made more
flexible and accessible should be incorporated into our bullet points. Recommendation
#3 will not have the comments incorporated. We will continue to process the comments
from our forum on Jan. 5 at our next meeting.
The meeting was adjourned at 7:45 PM.
Here are the draft recommendations being circulated by the Best Practices Committee:
1. Develop written protocols for conducting various types of public meetings for City
committees, departments, and other decision-making bodies. Consider the following:
• Publicly posting for each year a list of all regularly scheduled meetings and making an
easy-to-understand, timed agenda available to the public prior to each one.
• Making the rules governing committees and their processes available to the public.
• Informing the public, especially key stakeholders, about specific meeting agenda items
that could have significant community impact.
• Appropriate committees and/or departments should conduct public education efforts on
significant project or policy decisions, including making publicly available all relevant
documents and conducting informational sessions.
• Holding meetings in an appropriate sized and accessible venue, particularly for issues
that may generate significant public turnout.
• Slow down or restart the decision-making process if public outreach/input is incomplete
• Meeting chairs should welcome public attendees, orient them to both the agenda and
committee rules/practices, and make meetings as interactive as reasonably possible.
• Developing online or through meeting sign-up sheets a contact list of residents who have
expressed interest in receiving information about the work of a committee.
• Creating and make available (website, libraries, etc.) an up-to-date, detailed list of
accessible meeting sites for civic and community groups together with written, consistent
fair usage policies governing the use of city-owned buildings (e.g. senior center, schools,
etc.) and spaces.
2. The City should assume an ongoing responsibility for explaining the detailed functions
and processes of municipal government. Consider the following:
• Create a “Citizens Guide to Northampton City Government” summarizing key aspects of
how our government is organized and the processes through which decisions are made. A
separate citizen guide focusing specifically on development and zoning issues may also
• Continue and expand “cityschool” and consider a video version for a wider reach.
• Create a “public information” staff position with a mandate to inform and educate the
public as early as possible about significant new initiatives or changes in policy or
governance. This staff person could also run an ongoing “cityschool” program, help
advertise board openings, manage the City’s web site, and staff a re-formed Citizens
Advisory Committee (see Recommendation 8) or ongoing Best Practices Committee.
• Collaborate with neighborhood groups/associations to maximize education and
• Provide a standard, comprehensive orientation and training for all committee appointees.
• Expand Northampton Community Television (NCTV) coverage of city government.
3. The Mayor, Finance Committee, and Finance Director should assume an ongoing
responsibility for explaining the City’s annual budget in detail. Consider the following:
• Build a formal public education and input component into the budget process.
• Make all financial and budgetary documents generated by the City easily accessible,
including salaries, budget requests, line item budgets, monthly line item updates, internal
transfers of money or property, external and internal audit reports, all contracts over
$5,000, collective bargaining agreements, and a detailed capital budget plan illustrating
current and proposed indebtedness.
• The Superintendent of Schools and the School Committee should build a formal public
education and input component into their budget process and make a detailed, line item
budget available to the public.
• The Board of Public Works, working with the DPW Director, should build a formal
public education and input component into their budget process that includes line item
expenditures and a clear explanation of the enterprise funds they oversee.
4. The City of Northampton should improve its website to be more user-friendly, ensure
greater consistency in the posting of public documents (e.g. agendas, minutes,
committee reports, etc.), and increase its overall effectiveness for public
communication. Consider the following:
• An easily accessible calendar function listing meetings of all Northampton governmental
bodies with links to supporting documents, minutes and current agendas.
• Expanding ways for interested citizens or groups to “sign up” electronically to receive
agendas and minutes for any board or committee. Investigate implementing “Really
Simple Syndication” (RSS) feeds to automate the process.
• Individual committee or departmental pages should include organizational descriptions,
mission statements, contact information for the members and staff, as well as any written
rules or standard practices for each body, including information about public input
practices for each organization and/or type of meeting. Any legal requirements for
particular meeting types could be pointed out as well.
• The website should complement the City’s efforts to educate citizens about their
government by including access to the information referenced in earlier recommendations
(e.g. Citizens Guide to Northampton Government, budget materials, etc.).
• Post a permanent “Volunteers Wanted” feature on the homepage with a direct link to
information about committees and positions filled by appointment, current vacancies,
how to apply, a volunteer application form, and other relevant information.
5. Review and, if necessary, revise current procedures for making appointments to City
committees, boards, commissions, and other positions to ensure that the process is clear,
consistent, and democratic and that appointments reflect the diversity of the
community. Consider the following:
• Make information on the current membership and appointed terms for each committee,
board, and commission more accessible to the public.
• Inform the public in advance about board vacancies and develop an ongoing outreach
process to recruit a pool of applicants reflective of the diversity of the community.
• Each committee should have a clear description of the roles and responsibilities of its
members as well as desirable skills and knowledge for committee members.
• Limits on terms and multiple appointments should be evaluated and considered for
• The City Council exercising greater oversight of the appointments process via its
Committee on Appointments and Evaluations.
• A citizen committee, perhaps a revitalized Citizens Advisory Committee or an ongoing
Best Practices Committee, could play a role in evaluating appointment procedures and
6. Commission an independent review of the Office of Planning and Development.
Consider the following:
• The Office of Planning and Development (OPD) is among the City’s most active
government agencies involved in a broad array of planning efforts, projects, and decisionmaking
processes having a significant impact on the public.
• The OPD was the subject of significant public comment and discussion – both favorable
and critical – at the Committee’s meetings and public forums.
• Given this level of public interest and debate, providing the Office of Planning and
Development with an opportunity for an independent review of its organization and
practices conducted by consulting professionals could benefit both its staff and the City
as a whole.
• Based on input gathered by the Committee, some items for evaluative study may include:
role of staff vis-à-vis committee members in conduct of meetings and interaction with
public; policy and procedure development and decision-making; timing, role, and
engagement of citizens in public
review and participation; training/education for staff and
committee members on best practices in planning with an engaged public; identifying
opportunities to educate the public without unduly burdening limited staff resources.
• Other major departments (DPW, Fire Department, Assessors, etc.) have greatly benefited
from similar external reviews, serving to affirm their strengths and constructively identify
areas for improvement.
7. Create a Vision/Mission Statement for city government that prioritizes citizen
engagement and participation, ethical behavior, and best practices in decision-making.
Consider the following:
• Adopt a City Council resolution publicly affirming Northampton’s ongoing commitment
to these important issues and ideals and circulate this resolution among all city
employees, officials, boards, and committees.
• Adopt a local public ethics ordinance similar to those currently being developed for state
government and in other municipalities.
8. Designate a standing committee to continue the work begun by the Ad Hoc Committee
on Best Practices to improve city decision-making and promote public participation.
Consider the following:
• Review and revise the currently unutilized “Citizens Advisory Committee” ordinance
established under Chapter 22, Article II of the Northampton Code of Ordinances and
revitalize the CAC.
• Create a permanent Best Practices Committee that could conduct public outreach and,
ongoing research, and make recommendations to the Mayor and City Council.
9. Review City Council rules and procedures, and City ordinances, in relationship to best
practices goals and guidelines. Consider the following:
• Access to adequate resources for research and support services.
• Providing independent legal counsel.
• Review Council Rules, including alternative approaches to facilitating public comment
and feedback at City Council meetings.
10. Initiate a comprehensive review of the City Charter both to see if general
modernization of the document is warranted and to examine several areas of expressed
public concern about our current structure of government. Consider the following:
• The role of the Mayor in City Council and School Committee meetings (e.g. chairing
meetings, setting agendas, etc.)
• City Council powers and responsibilities.
• Committee composition and appointment authority.
• Term-limits for elected officials.