The city will soon consider revising its charter, and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. thinks some changes — such as extending the terms of elected officials — are warranted.
Last Tuesday, the aldermanic affairs committee recommended that the full Board of Aldermen vote to require a 15-member commission to consider increasing term lengths and changing the size of the full board. The vote, which is scheduled for April 19, will also finalize the commission’s membership.
DeStefano said he thinks the board should be smaller. Still, five aldermen interviewed had mixed views about the changes.
The city wanted to address charter reform now in part because they wanted to have it coincide with the 2010 census, said Sean Matteson, DeStefano’s chief of staff. Over the next several months, the commission will hold two public hearings, and it will decide whether to propose changes to the full board for approval to be put on the ballot this November. The commission has the ability to examine any number of changes to the charter, not just ones the board orders it to consider at the April 19 meeting.
The city is required to review its charter at least once every 10 years, and the last time was in 2002. That year, an initial proposal to shrink the board was rejected by the charter revision commission, but the other proposed change was included on the ballot in November, along with other proposals, such as giving the mayor express authority to issue executive orders.
At the time, opponents of a four-year mayoral term said it would reduce the official’s accountability to constituents, and one alderman, Vincent Mauro Jr. of Ward 8, said bundling the proposals was an effort to hide the issue of increasing mayoral terms from the voters. Ultimately, the bundle was defeated at the polls by a margin of 247 votes.
Lengthening terms allows elected officials more time to accomplish things before they must run for re-election, Matteson said.
“You go to the polls asking voters to make a choice as an incumbent without having done a whole lot, because you haven’t had that much time,” he said.
John Cirello, a Republican and local lawyer who was recommended by the aldermanic affairs committee to serve on the charter revision commission, said four-year mayoral terms might give an opposition party a leg up because they would give candidates more time to launch a campaign.
Tom Lehtonen, Ward 27 alderman and aldermanic affairs committee chair, said he had mixed feelings about increasing aldermanic terms because an alderman is “essentially a volunteer job.” But he acknowledges that elections currently come up quickly.
Matteson added that longer terms also may reduce the costs of the election process. He said having elections so frequently — municipal elections on odd years, state and national elections on even years, and even some in between — creates “voter fatigue” and that having less frequent elections could increase voter turnout.
The city will redistrict its wards based on how the census results play out. The wards could also change based on whether the city decides to change the size of the board.
Two aldermen said reducing the size of their board is going to be a contentious issue.
“It would be a huge challenge asking the Board of Aldermen to vote on some of them losing their jobs,” Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 said.
Still, Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said it would be better to have fewer people on the board to work with.