Boston City Council President Michelle Wu filed an ordinance with the City Clerk today that would, if passed by the Council, establish a mechanism by which ordinary residents would be able to petition the Council to hold a hearing on any matter.

Dubbed the "Right of Free Petition Ordinance," the bill filed today would require a formal City Council hearing of a matter brought by petition carrying the signatures of at least 250 city residents. 

The ordinance is meant to mimic Massachusetts' statewide "right of free petition," which allows citizens to place state ordinances on the ballot by means of petition. 

Wu said that the threshold of 250 petitioners was based loosely on the number of signatures required to run for City Council in Boston — and that the number represents a starting point for discussion as the ordinance is taken up by the entire Council. 

"I want this to be an open frank discussion between all of my colleagues about what the role of the City Council is," Wu told WGBH News. 

Wu said she had not shopped the ordinance around to other councilors before filing it and that she will formally introduce the ordinance to colleagues at the Council's weekly session on Wednesday. 

Wu said she hopes hearings on her ordinance will balance the practical needs of the Council in its role of drafting and passing legislation — "But also make sure we are the most responsive body we can be and we're there for residents who want to get involved, especially in this time of activity and protest and marches and people wanting to have a role and a voice. "

More than a dozen other municipalities around Massachusetts have similar ordinances, including Newton, Lawrence, and Chelsea. Those cities require fewer signatures, but are of course much smaller.

The current proposal of 250 signatures would likely make the threshold for hearing-by-petition in Boston among the lowest by population in the Commonwealth.

Lawrence Dicara, a former City Council President, said the council had explored similar issues in the late 70s, but that they never materialized as formal ordinance or home rule petition to the state legislature.
Dicara wondered whether the council might face a barrage of proposals by neighborhood activists — “neighborhood speed limits, for example” — that could pose a challenge to the status quo and flow of business.
But he was supportive of the measure, telling WGBH News  it “certainly worthy of ample discussion,” and that it would be a “good discussion” for Council to take up.