Despite a missed opportunity on staggered elections, city policymakers are moving in the right direction with proposed changes to the City Charter.
St. Joseph City Council members are leaning toward four proposed changes to the charter that outlines the framework of municipal government in St. Joseph.
At a work session Tuesday, council members signed off on eliminating one council district and adding another at-large seat that covers the entire city. That would change the format from five districts and three at-large positions, plus the mayor, to a new council makeup with one mayor, four at-large positions and four district members.
This new council framework, if approved by voters, would lead to a more rational district map based on four separate quadrants of the city. We’re not saying the current districts are gerrymandered, because they’re not designed to benefit a political party or cause, but some of the shapes include narrow strips and odd doglegs.
District 5, in particular, looks like a church with a narrow steeple when viewed on a map.
We previously endorsed a proposal to eliminate all districts and create eight at-large seats, plus the mayor. This offered the best chance to eliminate factionalism and encourage leadership with a broader, citywide vision.
Critics of this plan expressed valid concerns, however, about residents losing accessibility to city government. In the end, the elimination of all districts could have become a poison pill that sinks all of the changes at the polls, which makes it expendable.
Other proposed charter changes seem reasonable. These measures include a stricter attendance policy for elected officials at council meetings, a lower retirement age for municipal judges and a rule allowing council members to be elected during the primary if they receive votes equal to more than half of the number of voters.
One disappointment was the decision not to pursue a Charter Review Committee’s recommendation to create a staggered cycle for election to the council, with a certain number of seats up for a vote every two years. As it stands now, the entire council can be replaced every four years, which leads to some exciting meetings but also creates a potential for uneven city policy and months of wheel-spinning as the council gets up to speed. It also empowers bureaucrats, who have the institutional knowledge.
We would advise reconsideration of staggered elections at some point. On other issues, the Charter Review Committee and council members suggest reasonable recommendations that voters should support.
The full council will have to vote at a future meeting on whether to put the charter changes on a ballot for next year.