2014-01-31 / Opinion

Considering Future Elections

To the Editor:

In consideration of the fact that the Charter Review Commission of the City of Newport has been formed, has been meeting, and has called for citizen input, the Newport Democratic City Committee (NDCC) offers the following statements:

Election of Members to the City Council by Ward Designation: With regard to a question as to whether to elect all members of the City Council on an at-large basis instead of having three members elected on a ward basis, NDCC strongly supports the integrity of the ward structure in city elections and in city government. Preserving and protecting the election of ward council members assures that each section of the city has adequate and equal representation on the City Council. With an all at-large council, there is a real chance that a disproportionate number of its members may come from one section of the city, leaving other sections unrepresented or underrepresented. When confronted with such needs as (a) a stop sign; (b) pothole repairs; (c) tree removal; (d) snow plowing; (e) attending to a sewer back-up; or (f ) calling a neighborhood meeting, the average citizen knows that contacting the ward councilor will get the ball rolling. Correspondingly, the ward councilor feels that he or she has a particular responsibility to the area that he or she represents. The current system works and there is no compelling reason to change it.

Direct Election and Stronger Role of the Mayor: NDCC discussed the issues of citizens having a more direct role in determining the mayor and how the mayor might be afforded a stronger role in city government. Each election cycle seems to renew discussion about how the position of mayor is decided. The current practice of having the newly elected members of the incoming City Council make the decision has merit. But, there have been controversies when the person who received the most votes at the previous election is not selected. So, the Charter Commission may want to solicit public opinion on this issue. Some of NDCC’s deliberations went in the direction of a “strong mayor vs. city manager” form of government. We even discussed partisan elections. While we did not have a definitive position on these interrelated issues, we did make the observation that more consideration should be extended to the role and authority of the mayor. Presiding over meetings of the City Council and performing certain ceremonial duties are, indeed, important and seem to be the principal ways that the mayor can be distinguished from other members of the City Council. But, we see the mayors of Providence, Cranston, Warwick, Pawtucket, Johnston, North Providence, Woonsocket, and Cumberland joining together all the time at the State House and advancing legislation that will enhance their municipalities. Newport is not at that table and we believe it should be. We urge the Charter Review Commission to consider this issue and seek testimony that will address it in some meaningful way. J. Clement Cicilline

Chair

Editor’s Note: The NDCC has also offered its opinion regarding the appointment of the school committee. Because of space limitations this week, that input will appear in next week’s issue.

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