Boston City Council eying charter change to avoid another New Year’s Day inauguration

Boston city councilors unhappy with having to work this past New Year’s Day are seeking a change in the city charter that would prevent mayoral and council inaugurations from being held on a federal holiday.

Councilor Gabriela Coletta, chair of the government operations committee, is recommending that the body vote favorably Wednesday on a home rule petition that would amend the city charter by moving the inauguration date from the first Monday of January to the first weekday after Jan. 2.

If approved, Mayor Michelle Wu would need to sign off on the petition before it could be pitched to state lawmakers on Beacon Hill, who would also have to approve a charter change moving the end of mayoral and council terms in the same way.

“The purpose of this docket is to ensure that City of Boston employees will not be required to work on the federally observed holiday for Jan. 1 New Year’s Day solely to participate in and facilitate city council and mayoral inaugurations (and) the commencement of the municipal year,” Coletta wrote in a committee report.

The docket for the petition, filed by Council Vice President Brian Worrell, drew laughter when it was read into the record by City Clerk Alex Geourntas at a Jan. 24 City Council meeting.

“Lots of snickering, I wonder why,” Council President Ruthzee Louijeune said at the time, perhaps alluding to the late-night celebrations that occurred on New Year’s Eve followed by the quick turnaround of a 10 a.m. inauguration, where the 13 councilors elected in November were required to take the oath of office.

A brief City Council meeting was also held at noon on New Year’s Day, where a vote was taken to select Louijeune as the body’s new president.

Worrell, in a Monday statement to the Herald, spoke to the strain that quick turnaround placed on the city’s public safety employees.

“This year, our first responders had to staff our inauguration 10 hours after First Night and New Year’s Eve,” Worrell said. “That’s too great a strain to put on our public safety officers. Other years, we wait till Jan. 7 to have an inauguration.

“I’d rather get to work earlier,” he added. “This solution solves for both problems, updating a centuries-old document with an easy fix that will ensure inauguration is Jan. 3-5, which is more in line with federal standards and should increase civic engagement.”

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In January, he said the home rule petition “follows Congress’ rule for the most part, which has its inauguration Jan. 3 so it would never fall on either New Year’s Day or its observed holiday.”

Louijeune also spoke favorably of the measure in January, saying that many council staff members had to work on the holiday this year as well, and were given the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend off to make up for it.

The tradition of swearing in on New Year’s Day is nothing unique to Boston. Media reports indicate that a number of mayors and city councilors were sworn into office in other Massachusetts municipalities this year on Jan. 1.

Under the city charter, the inauguration date, municipal years, and elected terms can fall from Jan. 1-7 as the “first Monday in January.” The petition seeks to change those dates to between Jan. 3-5, as the first weekday after Jan. 2.

The act, if passed locally and by the state, would take effect starting with the elected terms and the municipal year that begins Jan. 5, 2026.

While 10 councilors signed onto Worrell’s petition after it was introduced in late January, two others didn’t: Ed Flynn, who was absent, and Erin Murphy. Both say they plan to vote ‘no’ if it is brought to a vote on Wednesday.

“As elected officials, I believe we have the obligation to serve the public at all times, even during a holiday,” Flynn said on Monday. “I’m honored to serve as a city councilor, and I will continue to work hard for my constituents day and night.”

Murphy said “winning an election and representing the City Council is an honor,” and that she doesn’t think working on a federal holiday for the inauguration is a “sacrifice.”

In terms of civic engagement, she said, having the ceremony on a federal holiday is “actually more convenient that family and others don’t have to take the day off work to join.”

Murphy said there isn’t a need, in her opinion, to change the city charter, established in 1822, pointing to the lack of frequency with which the inauguration falls on a federal holiday.

It wouldn’t occur again until 2034, when the first Monday of the month is Jan. 2, the observed date. The inauguration would next fall on New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, in 2046.

If the proposed charter change is because an inauguration “falls after people going out on New Year’s Eve,” Murphy said, “then I’m 100% against it.”

City Councilor Brian Worrell (Herald file)

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