Issue 3 on the Akron municipal ballot revives a proposal voters rejected six years ago — increasing the terms of ward council members from two years to four years. In trying again, Mayor Don Plusquellic and City Council President Marco Sommerville have added a few twists to make the change more appealing. The question is whether the differences make a persuasive argument for passage of the proposed charter amendment.
We recommend a “no” vote on Issue 3 on Nov. 6.
The case for four-year terms for ward representatives long has revolved around whether two-year terms represent a political distraction, council members ducking tough decisions for fear of losing re-election bids.
As was the case six years ago, there is little evidence that the City Council as a whole has dodged thorny matters or that two-year terms have prevented solid candidates from coming forward. What two-year terms do encourage is making ward representatives more responsive to their constituents — their most important role.
In addition, the proposed charter amendment would bring the election of at-large council members, who already serve four-year terms, into line with ward members. That would result in all city officials, including the mayor, being elected and taking office at the same time.
Plusquellic and Sommerville point to savings of $150,000 to $200,000 by eliminating an off-year election. That’s not a large enough sum, even in an era of tight budgets, given the more important principles at stake.
Staggered terms for at-large council members help assure their independence, giving them a stronger voice in the overall direction of the city. Staggered terms also prevent a total change in leadership at once, providing an element of continuity, acting as part of the checks and balances in city government. And the change could decrease competition. The proposal would end the option of at-large members, in mid-term, challenging for the mayor’s office from a safe seat, as happened in 2011 with Michael Williams.
Another sweetener in the amendment would limit pay raises for the mayor and council members to the average increase for workers in the private sector, countering complaints about pay levels for public workers. That link does have merit, but it is not compelling enough to overcome the shortcomings in the proposed charter change, especially when the current system has been neither distracting nor dysfunctional.