Worcester has a modiﬁed Plan E form of government–our chief executive is the (unelected) City Manager; the Mayor is nothing more than the head of our legislature, the City Council. Worcesterites affectionately call this the “Weak Mayor” form of government. We’ve had this form of government for over 60 years, though every ten years or so Worcesterites get restless with the status quo and toy with the idea of “charter change,” imagining that a “Strong Mayor” would be an improvement. Here are some typical reasons offered for such change:
Accountability. Electing a leader would mean that the chief executive would be accountable to voters on a regular basis.
Effectiveness. There are a significant number of people who look at the career of Providence’s Buddy Cianci not as a cautionary tale of corruption but as an example of a person who gets things done.
Leadership. What the Buddy Cianci fans are really pointing to is a sense of leadership. A City Manager just manages city operations with some input/direction from the City Council. A strong Mayor would have much more freedom to direct the city according to his own vision.
Those content to leave Plan E in place feel:
A strong mayor form of government might politicize city government. One of the reasons Worcester moved to a City Manager was to avoid political appointments and to have a professional administrator running the city.
An apathetic electorate, few of whom vote regularly, effectively negate the benefit of electing the administrator. We could end up with a ten-term Mayor who is just as unaccountable as an unelected City Manager.
Our two-year election cycle is too short for the administrator of a city. A strong Mayor who spends half his time scheming for the next election with feel-good projects isn’t an effective administrator.
These are just a few points raised by both sides of the “charter change” divide. That we revisit this topic so often could indicate a lack of institutional memory, or perhaps just a stubborn Yankee sense that things might possibly work better if we get under the hood & tinker a bit.
The Weak Mayors of
Worcester’s Current Charter
Joseph C. O’Brien
Our “current charter” includes both District Councilors and direct election of the Mayor.
From the May 2011 issue of Happiness Pony. [PDF]