Don Plusquellic and Marco Sommerville want to try again. The Akron mayor and City Council president have revived a proposal to increase the terms of ward council members from two years to four years. Voters rejected the idea six years ago. What is different now that should persuade the council to place a charter amendment on the November ballot?
Plusquellic and Sommerville have framed the question as part of the city budget under stress, and they have added a twist that plays to unhappiness with government. They estimate that by eliminating off-year elections, the city would save from $150,000 to $200,000. That isnít a huge sum. It could make a difference in adding a couple of police officers, every dollar counting, especially as the state puts the squeeze on cities.
The proposal calls for electing ward and at-large council members in 2013, and again in 2015, when all members would run for four-year terms. Sommerville long has argued for the four years, insisting that members tend to duck tougher issues when elections loom. He sees the city benefiting from members feeling less political pressure.
Other cities have the longer term. Summit County Council members serve for four years. As a sweetener, Plusquellic and Sommerville would link pay raises for the mayor and council members to the average increase for workers in the private sector. In that way, they would address complaints about public workers doing better than those covering the cost of their salaries.
That linkage makes sense. In pitching the rest of the package, the mayor and council president have much work to do. There remains the essential logic of a two-year term. A successful ward council member must be responsive to city residents, first and foremost. The shorter term encourages the required attention. More, wards rarely have hotly contested races involving the time and commitment that add up to an undue distraction.
Yes, constituents could mount a recall if a council member proves grossly ineffective. Is that really a better situation than all ward members called to account every two years? Isnít a charter review commission a better vehicle for such changes?
The mayor argues that the city would benefit from all offices elected at the same time, everyone with a stake in how well they perform. That has appeal. Then, there is the point behind staggered terms for at-large council members, encouraging an overall view of the city and inviting independence. True, the arrangement hardly is a guarantee, too many at-large members falling short of the standard. Yet the purpose in amending the charter is to serve the city as a whole over the long run. The mayor and the council president have the task of showing just how their changes would do so.