Widespread corruption and fiscal mismanagement led the Massachusetts State Legislature to take the unprecedented step of suspending all authorities of Chelsea’s elected officials by putting the city into state receivership. Hundreds of Special Acts attached to Chelsea’s 1903 City Charter had contributed to confused lines of responsibility and little accountability.
In conducting an assessment, Susan Podziba met with sixty individuals, who were formal and informal leaders in Chelsea as well as appointed and elected state officials. Given Chelsea’s history, diversity, and distrust of outsiders, PPM designed a multi-layered inclusive process that engage the city’s highly diverse populace in the learning how to self govern as it prepared a new city charter.
The Charter Preparation Team (Team), which represented all segments of the city and included elected officials, participated in mediated deliberations over all aspects of municipal governance -- from chief executive and legislative bodies to innovative opportunities for future citizen participation. Podziba Policy Mediation mediated the Team’s six months of weekly meetings.
In addition, trusted local residents, who were trained by the mediation team, fanned out across the city to facilitate charter discussions at social clubs, organizations and houses of worship to engage people where they naturally met. Citizens also participated via newsletters, call-in cable television shows, a hotline, a survey and community meetings.
The Chelsea Charter Consensus Process marked a fundamental change in Chelsea citizens’ relationships with their city government. Ultimately, good government ideals articulated by thousands of residents were integrated into a voter-ratified charter. Under the new charter, new elections for city posts attracted a wide range of diverse candidates and produced new city leadership. Within five years, Chelseans had transformed their virtually bankrupt city and failed democracy into a vibrant, stable and growing city, winning the prestigious All American City Award from the National Civic League as well as a flow of private investment dollars.
The Chelsea Charter Preparation Team unanimously approved a charter. Ultimately, good government ideals articulated by thousands of residents were integrated into a voter-ratified city charter. The inclusive process used the existing pockets of healthy community structures to build citywide social capital. Under the new charter, new elections for city posts attracted a wide range of diverse candidates and produced new city leadership. Within five years, the City of Chelsea transformed from a virtually bankrupt city and failed democracy into a vibrant, stable and growing city, and won the All American City Award from the National Civic League.