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City Electoral System Could Change

By: Whitney Holmes
By: Whitney Holmes

On Monday the city council will see the completed report of changes to the current city government. The report was completed by a task force, called to meet because of growing citizen complaints about the city government being unresponsive, homogenous in economic status and party affiliation, and a decline in voter participation. The biggest proposed change analyzed in the report was to the electoral system.

Currently, you popularly elect your five council members at–large. Whoever gets the most votes in the city wins and represents the city as a whole. The candidates on the ballot are nominated by their political party. And traditionally, Democrats have held the majority on the council. There is one Republican on the council now and he says the at–large electoral system needs to change.

"Places like Belmont have been ignored for years where places like the north downtown area have been getting money, that's where most of the people have been elected to city council are from," said the sole Republican council member Rob Schilling.

About a year ago, Schilling proposed a ward–based electoral system which breaks the city up into representative districts. Those districts, called wards, elect someone to represent their own ward. He says this idea has been shot down by fellow council members because they're afraid.

"They're fearful to lose that power. At one time the former mayor said when I suggested increasing the city council from five to seven members, that that 'would make this a less powerful body.' Well, I’m not interested in being a powerful body but what power the people have," said Schilling.

But just as Schilling pointed to Belmont as an area that is underrepresented, Vice Mayor Kevin Lynch thinks the opposite.

"I think Belmont Park is a good example that shows that you don't have to have someone elected from your area to represent you," said Lynch.

Therefore, Lynch thinks that one person representing the entire city than just a ward is better. He says all the council members are very accessible, to anyone.

The system that was analyzed by the task force was a mixed system, where three council members would be elected at–large and four representing wards. This also increases the city council by two members.

The task force also looked at popularly electing the mayor instead of having him appointed by the council. Richmond just did this.

The task force also looked implicitly at eliminating the partisan elections.


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