(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)
The advantages that the status quo gives to those whom it favors include the power to resist change. So in practice, it is difficult to follow Thomas Jefferson’s advice that we renew our government every 20 years.
In Somerville’s case, this is not from lack of trying. Just 12 years after adoption of the current charter, the Board of Aldermen created a committee to completely rewrite it. The charter that they created specified a “commission” form a government, a forerunner of today’s council/manager form. The board approved it, the mayor signed it, but it died in the Legislature in 1914.
In those days, Massachusetts municipalities were creatures of the Legislature, their powers granted through municipal laws, or in the case of cities, by “Special Municipal Legislation.” Our current city charter is just such a special law, having been passed by the Legislature as Ch. 240 of the Acts and Resolves of 1899. As such, it can only be amended by the Legislature. This has been an unnecessarily cumbersome way to govern strictly local matters.