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Bill Passed Will Allow Referendum To Change Cambridge PR, Plan 'E'

By Bruce L. Paisner

The Cambridge City Manager and the Proportional Representation system of elections may face a new threat from a bill which was passed by the Massachusetts General Court last week.

The bill provides for a referendum to adopt a Plan "F" form of city government: partisan elections with primaries and political administration. This is a form of government that the Cambridge Civic Association and other local groups have sought to prevent in their campaign to maintain PR.

Last fall, Plan "E" and PR won by only a few hundred votes, after a desperate campaign to abolish the system nearly succeeded. PR, which allows voters to rank their choices for City Council in descending order of preference, insures minority representation, but has constantly lost popularity during the past few years.

The bill which passed the General Court and was signed into law by Lt. Gov. Edward A. McLaughlin (Gov. Volpe was on vacation) permits a petition to adopt Plan "F"'s partisan system to be placed on the ballot in state as well as in municipal elections.

This would provide a modification of the present law which permits consideration of municipal matters only during municipal elections. Only certain State offices are up for re-election this year.

Since the move to throw out the PR system of Plan "E" in Cambridge elections was defeated last November, this issue cannot come before the voters again for two years. But the question can be placed on the ballot in another form, and thus many groups which campaigned for the abolition of Plan "E" will try to make Plan "F" an issue in this fall's State election.

The CCA has charged in its monthly Bulletin that the bill to permit Plan "F," introduced by Rep. Thomas F. Farrell of Worcester, was purposely given a confusing title and was sneaked past the legislature. An identical bill with an accurate title was rejected by the legislature earlier this year, the Bulletin points out.

Supporters of PR insist that the system has kept corruption out of Cambridge city government. Opponents, including the Young Democrats, maintain that the system is unnecessarily wasteful and time-consuming.

CCA President James Perkins has sent a letter to Gov. Volpe protesting the passage of the bill. He notes its uncertain path through the legislature and asserts that "plans of municipal government should be considered only at municipal elections, when the voters of a city are undistracted by national or state issues."

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