Committee pursues changing council size

Douglas M. Kafury

The Committee for Fair Representation decided to pursue amendments to the Kent City Charter yesterday to downsize the number of city council members and make elections in the city non-partisan for the November ballot.

This committee was formerly called the Council Improvement Committee.

Nancy Hansford, member of the Committee for Fair Representation, said the amendment would reduce the size of city council from nine members to seven members, which is the original size of council as written in the charter. The amendment would reduce the current six-ward system to four wards and would leave the number of at-large council members at three.

Walt Adams, member of the Committee for Fair Representation, said the main advantage for reducing the size of council is that each voter has more power. Since each voter only can vote for one member of council from his or her own ward and the three at-large council members, voters aren’t able to elect a majority of council because of the current nine members. However, if council is reduced to seven members, each voter would be able to vote for a majority of the council members.

Hansford said one drawback to reducing the number of ward council members is residents may be farther away from the representative.

Hansford said she isn’t lobbying for the issue one way or another, but she said she feels the issue should be left to the voters.

“This is a matter that the voters have the right to decide,” Hansford said.

Hansford said the 2005 Charter Review Commission, which she chaired, submitted the referendum to council for the 2005 election, but council did not receive enough votes to put the issue on the ballot.

If the amendment is passed, no current council member will lose time in office, and the elections for the reduced council would start in 2007.

The decision to pursue the amendment for making city elections non-partisan will come in two parts. One amendment will refer to elections for city council, and the other will refer to elections for mayor, because the two bodies are covered in separate parts of the charter.

Hansford said nearly 73 percent of registered voters in the city are registered as nonpartisan, 22 percent Democrat and less than 4 percent Republican. Hansford said 80 percent of voters were excluded from voting for council-at-large in the May 2005 primary because they had no party affiliation.

“The idea is to increase voter participation,” Hansford said.

John Flynn, Committee for Fair Representation member, said making elections in the city non-partisan is a “no-brainer.”

“According to the statistics, 75 percent of voters in Kent are not affiliated with either the Democrats or Republicans,” Flynn said. “They should be given the opportunity to vote in the primary, and they’re not.”

The committee must now obtain signatures from 10 percent of the city’s registered voters, which is approximately 1,580 voters. The petitions then would be submitted to members of city council, which has 60 days to decide whether to put the amendments on the ballot. If council decides against putting the amendments on the ballot, the committee will go to the Board of Elections directly to put the amendments on the ballot.

The committee is currently working on strategies to propose the referendums to council. Hansford said she hopes to let council know as soon as possible.

“The quicker we move, the more it shows serious intent,” Hansford said.

Aug. 25 is the deadline for submitting the amendments to the Board of Elections for the Nov. 7 general election.

Contact public affairs reporter Douglas M. Kafury at [email protected]