Here is a Vimeo video of the Best Practices Forum held on February 11. The forum took place in the JFK Middle School Community Room. This video is 2 hours 13 minutes long and was recorded by Ken Mitchell. It is complete except for a few seconds at the beginning and two brief interruptions (a minute or so) to change between cameras.
The next meeting of the Best Practices Committee is Wednesday, February 25, 4:30 PM, 2nd Floor Hearing Room, City Hall, 210 Main Street. The public is encouraged to attend, and feel free to submit comments at the Suggestion Box. The committee’s final recommendations are due to City Council by March 5.
Minutes of the public forum of the Committee on Best Practices in Municipal Decision Making held in the community room at JFK Middle School on Feb. 11, 2009.
The meeting was called to order at 7 PM. Present were committee members David Narkewicz, Lisa DePiano, Alex Ghiselin, Jim Palermo, Michael Bardsley and Bob Reckman. Cookies and cider were supplied by Alex. Wendy Foxmyn was not able to attend. Lisa took notes on a newsprint sheet.
Members of the public who were present were George Lohout (Planning Board), Mary Kasper, Deb Jacobs (tree committee), Gerry Budgar (Ward 3 Neighborhood Association), Julie Kling, Jesus Leyva, Peter McLean (Baystate Village Association, Ken Mitchell, Jim Dostal (City Council president), Claudia Lefko, Jim Nash, Rick Feldman and Hedy Rose. Reporter Owen Boss was present from the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Ken Mitchell taped the proceedings for future webcast.
Jim Palermo asked if there were any questions about our process.
George Kohout said that our in-reach activities had not reached him.
Julie Kling asked how the changes we recommend would be affected by the current financial problems and is concerned that they would add another burden to our already overworked boards and committees.
David, Michael and Bob responded to her concerns.
Mary Kasper expressed concern that timed agendas would be difficult to produce and that our suggestion for restarting the process in the event of “unsatisfactory” process would be difficult to define. She also thanked us for our good work.
Deb Jacobs said that she thought our recommendation for orientation for new committee members was helpful. She also thinks it would be useful for committees that hold “public hearings” find a way to exchange their experiences.
Hedy Rose complained about the difficulty she has hearing in the Community Room. She thinks the City needs to do better at providing audibly accessible meeting spaces. She also thinks that the system needs to rely on the contributions of interested and engaged citizens.
Claudia Lefko expressed skepticism about the ability of citizens to access City systems. She encouraged greater openness of City spaces to community or other informal groups for meetings. She thinks our recommendations seem more formal than they should be.
Jesus Leyva said that he think that the committee has yet to address the existence of independent entities such as Smith College that exist in our community.
Hedy Rose suggested that our process needed to include a very broad definition of stakeholders rather than the “usual suspects”.
Gerry Budgar said that he appreciates the work of our committee. He sees a lack of communication between the citizens and the City which creates a sense of malaise and occasional frustration. He would like to see better and more timely agendas readily available for board and committee meetings. He called for greater outreach to the citizens about projects that will affect them, suggesting public meetings (perhaps hosted by the councilor) about upcoming or ongoing issues. He also called for some sort of continuing efforts to foster best practices in the City.
Rick Feldman said that he had come this evening as a result of e-mails from 2 members of the committee. The best way to get people to attend it to ask them to come. When Richie Neal was Mayor of Springfield he made a priority of building up neighborhood organizations and doing outreach to them. It took many years and a lot of grant money to achieve success.
Deb Jacobs said that City Departments had been very helpful about a proposed project in Leeds once they were asked for advice.
Rick Feldman expressed skepticism about the cost of our recommendations. Michael Bardsley pointed out that there are things we can do in the short term that will not be expensive. Alex Ghiselin seconded this belief. Bob Reckman said that he believes it will depend on the response of the City Council to our recommendations. If they take them up seriously and take concrete actions to put the easiest ones in place soon, then the process will be underway, although it will take many years to complete.
Michael Bardsley cited the creation of the re-zoning committee as an example of how the Best Practices have already begun to have an effect.
Claudia, Hedy and Deb pointed out the responsibility that citizens have to help the process progress.
Peter McLean said that he thought City School should be shorter or people should not be required to attend as many sessions. Jesus Leyva asked that meetings be structured so that people can simply walk in.
Mary, Claudia and Hedy agreed that the need for communication is very great. There were complaints about the difficulty of getting better coverage in the newspapers.
Jim Nash suggested that members of city boards and committees should recognize their responsibility to carry their work back into the community. He thinks there should be clear requirements for attendance and expertise. He thinks the Open Meeting Law sometimes seems to inhibit discussion and dialogue.
Jim Dostal said that when the report comes to City Council it will be addressed with great seriousness. They will pick the low hanging fruit first. It is more important to get it right than done too soon.
Mary Kasper suggested that City Committees could do a better job letting people know what their responsibilities are and how they can get appointed. She also thinks there should be term limits on City boards and committees. Deb Jacobs disagreed about the wisdom of term limits.
Jesus Leyva said that he thinks the relationship between Smith and the City should be the subject of a study by the successor to the Best Practices Committee. This should look at all aspects of this relationship.
Gerry Budgar spoke about the efforts of the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association to establish a system for attending the meetings of many City Boards and Committees and writing summaries that will help inform the citizens about what the committees/boards are doing.
Claudia Lefko called again for more citizen friendly language for our recommendations.
Jim Nash said that he thinks one reason the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association has been so successful it that our Ward and our neighborhood are relatively similar. Michael explained that the process of drawing wards is constrained by census blocks created by the Federal government.
Hedy Rose endorsed our support for the outside review of the Office of Planning and Development.
Jim thanked the public for sharing their views.
The meeting adjourned at 9:20 PM.
Respectfully submitted by Bob Reckman
Public Comments from Best Practices Forum 2/11/09
Transcribed by Lisa DePiano
General Comments about Recommendations‐
Who gets to decide what happens and how?
Is this making the process harder? More delays
Have Guidelines for committee (new members)
Not everyone has Internet
Space for non‐city committees to meet
Think of out of the box ways for public participation
Timed agendas‐ how is this determined how to people know how much (time)
- Restart Process‐ how will you know if this is necessary
- New ways to hold public hearings‐ too formal
- Accessibility‐make sure room is suitable for hearing disabilities
- Make sure there is an oversight committee to make sure it happens
- Watchdog committee to communicate with public and reach out early on in
- People who may not be on boards/committees ways for them to be involved
- Participatory democracy‐ open system not what the city can teach you
- Include the arts committee
- How to communicate with the public about existing resources
- Stakeholders‐who are they, how do you communicate with them
- Flow of information‐get out agendas with detailed information to residents
before the meetings use email lists
- Get out Notification procedures to residents about zoning changes, road
- Use neighborhood associations every ward could have one, they could work
with the councilor from that ward.
- Have another committee to follow up‐ have representation from
- Citizen participation training‐ how to hold neighborhood councils, have
people pay for the program through paid staff, have continual outreach/
- People respond when they are asked to come face to face
- Use WXOJ radio to communicate
- How do you hold government accountable?
- Who is the City?
- Have implementation (of BP recommendations) be a two way street b/t
citizens and City 1. Assign to city councilors and subcommittees 2. Hold
special council meeting to talk about recommendations
- Citizens taking responsibility (for implementations of rec)
- Awareness that these recommendations exists, alert citizens, have liaisons go
to meetings and make sure they are implementing recommendations
- City School is not accessible to most people, it needs more flexibility
- Citizen outreach‐ we need people out in the community physically delivering
- How do you incorporate people who “walk in” late to meetings
- Budget Road show‐ more of it. Memo for public understanding aside from
forum i.e. amount city contributes to BID
- How do we get out to people who are not already involved
- Committees work with newspaper for more coverage
- Use league of woman voters to get out the citizens guidebook
- Incorporate city school for public school system
- Have committee members take the information out to the public
- Committees have clear job descriptions draw people into committees recruit
- Open Meeting Laws‐ understand it, prevents discussion reform law.
- Use City website‐ have link for committees have job description
- Have book for new committee members‐ already exists for arts council as
model they have term limits
- Multiple positions‐ get rid out‐ more participation, broader participation, no
- List legal requirements for public hearings define terms
- Guide to zoning/planning terms
- Look at relationships to Smith College and the City‐ do a case study on this,
have town/gown committee
- Look at the way the recommendations are written City and citizens work
together. Not imposed by the city to the public. Write them as a call to action,
- Look at redistricting to include neighborhoods do not fragment
- Make sure there is a response that citizens can be heard taken serious
- Think more about the city as a whole do not let ward boundaries fragment
Video: Best Practices Committee Meeting of January 8; Public Forum Slated for February 11
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-ma
king; 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.
Best Practices Meeting of November 12: Video; Discussion of Term Limits
In many areas the committee members were able to achieve consensus
about which recommendations to put forward to the City Council.
However, some suggestions saw disagreement, notably term limits for
elected and/or appointed officials, which were touched on during 2:29:50-2:34:57.