Post Independent opinion: Lack of competition for city council seats bad for community
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
There’s just one race for Glenwood Springs City Council this election cycle. Little to no competition for city council seats is now the norm for this community, and that’s too bad.
Apathy and busy lives are probably mostly to blame, but city council ward divisions may play a role, too.
For the short term, city officials have proposed a sensible plan for dealing with the single-contest situation in this election. In the long term, we propose a charter change to eliminate the ward divisions on City Council.
The sensible short-term response goes to City Council tomorrow evening, in the form of a resolution to cancel the municipal mail-in election for Wards 3, 4 and at-large council seats. The result is that only registered voters in Ward 1 will receive a ballot to choose between Ward 1 contestants, incumbent Russ Arensman and challenger Ted Edmonds.
The cancellation is a sensible move that will save the city government at least $5,000.
Otherwise, voters outside of Ward 1 would receive ballots with no choices. Seeing that, some residents might kick themselves for not making a run for City Council. But more voters would likely pop a gasket over a pointless expense.
So we expect council to make quick work of approving the resolution cancelling all but the Ward 1 election.
Meanwhile, ward divisions might be having an effect on candidate interest.
The seven-member City Council is made up of five ward seats plus two at-large seats. The terms are staggered, so three seats come up in one election cycle and four in the next.
It’s a good form of representative government for large cities, where demographics can vary widely. But we question the relevance in Glenwood Springs. It’s not a homogenous community, but our ethnic diversity and income variations are fairly well distributed throughout the city.
Even with ward divisions, and regardless of the Ward 1 outcome, we will have a City Council consisting entirely of middle-income white men.
At the same time, because of the assigned ward and at-large seats, some residents who want to serve on City Council may find themselves challenging an incumbent or a neighbor with whom they would rather serve than unseat.
That circumstance is probably enough to discourage some good candidates from running.
If Glenwood Springs were to shift to all at-large seats, as is the rule in Rifle, the election would be a general run-off. The top three or four candidates would win seats in a contest that would be less personal, and a run-off could help keep campaigns focused on the strengths each candidate brings to the table.
A change like this would require an amendment to the city charter, which would have to be approved by the voters of the city. We encourage the new council, once seated, to consider whether this option would bring more participation in elections and more diversity to the city’s governing board.
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