Newport This Week

Newport Commission Eyes Election Changes

A public commission tasked with reviewing the city’s charter is considering changes to Newport’s election laws, including moving to elections every four years, stag­gered terms, term limits and doing away with wards.

“I would personally prefer that we just had a popular election as opposed to wards, because we’re not all wards,” said Charter Review Commission Chair Maureen Cronin on Feb. 3. “To have the at-large and the wards seems to me to be ques­tionable. Either everything should be divided into wards, which I don’t think is appropriate, or every council member should represent the city at-large. That way, every council member is representing the entire city, instead of some rep­resenting the entire city and some representing specific wards.”

The city charter mandates that the City Council consist of seven members, four at-large councilors and three councilors representing each of the city’s wards. Council­ors representing wards are elected exclusively by qualified electors of those wards. Elections, under cur­rent law, occur every two years, and there are no term limits.

“I don’t mean to imply [wards] are a problem for their deci­sion making, but as a resident, I find it confusing,” said Cronin.

Commission members agreed. “It just seems too divided to me,” said member Stephanie Smyth.

“I concur with a city this size,” said member Guy Weston. “It’s not that we don’t know what’s going on down on lower Thames Street or in the North End. It’s all New­port. I think our representatives can be reflective of that. And the way [the wards] are actually drawn makes no sense to me.”

The discussion was an overarch­ing, generalized conversation, and no proposal was officially put for­ward at the meeting. The commis­sion does not have the power to modify the charter, and must sub­mit recommendations for changes to the City Council.

Commission members also aired concerns regarding timing of elec­tions.

“I find it almost impossible to think that somebody can run for election, get elected, spend a cou­ple of months getting up to speed, start hearing things and then have to go for re-election again in two years,” said Cronin.

Members thought an election every three or four years would be preferable, and believed term limits could be introduced to en­sure the flow of new faces to the council.

The discussion was continued to the commission’s next meeting on Feb. 17.

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