Worcester Business Journal
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A switch to strong-mayor governance is something that Worcester has considered on three occasions over the 60-year history of city-manager government—known here until 1985 as Plan E, after the alphabetized options for city government allowed under state statute.
< br/>In a sense, Worcester’s hybrid form of government is the weakest possible “weak mayor” system. This is because the mayor has no true authority beyond wielding the gavel at the Tuesday night council meetings. The 1985 charter reform also weakened the city manager. The mayor became a “supercouncilor,” empowered by voter mandate as the titular head of Worcester municipal government. In short: The appointed city manager has the legal power, but the elected mayor has the political power. The result: a two-headed government, with ample—and frequently realized— opportunity for confrontation and gridlock.
These days, 14 years later, a combination of tough economic times, a continually shrinking business tax base, and a longing for a kind of entrepreneurial leadership that has been lacking under the hybrid Plan E system have the conversation about charter change once again being raised. This time, by longtime political activist and several-time City Council candidate Bill Coleman.
These questions remain: Does Worcester really need to reform its charter? Does the city need a strong mayor? Or, a reversion to a pure Plan E charter, with its strong city manager and weak mayor not elected directly by the people? And what does all of it mean for the economic sustainability of New England’s second largest city?