Of the People – By the People – For the People
A Look into Clarksburg West Virginia’s City Council Workshop
What they did. Didn’t do. And why.
On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln made, what was to become, one of the most famous speeches in America history. In his fabled Gettysburg Address, his last line contained these words, “and that government, of the people, by the people, for the people…” I once stood on the very spot where Lincoln gave this unforgettable speech. I have never forgotten his words.
To me, these words echo through all levels of our government, from Washington to my own City Council Chambers – Clarksburg, West Virginia. That is why I am so concerned about recent events within my city government.
Earlier this year, I attended a City Council meeting and made three proposals, proposals which I and others feel would give an important voice to the people: Direct election of the Mayor, a return to the Ward system, and term limits.
On Wednesday, September 12, Council scheduled a work session to look at many city issues. I was pleased to see my proposals were part of the discussion. Earlier that morning, I sent another transcript of my original proposal to every Council person, to prevent misinterpretation.
According to next day report in the Exponent Telegram: Councilman Sigmon supported the idea of direct mayoral elections, “It might entice more people to get out and vote. They’ll feel like they have more of a say in local government.” While Mayor Goings was in favor of direct election, she said, “In order to do a charter change, you’d have to do an election. Do the changes justify the cost of an election? A special election could cost the city $20,000.”
It is absolutely necessary to stop right now! While it is true, charter changes do require an election, it is NOT necessary to spend $20,000 for a Special Election. There is another way. Co-schedule the proposed charter changes along with another election. If the math worked to where another election was within the window, officials would simply attach the proposed changes. This way, there would be NO additional cost to the city.
In the meantime, we must understand: A ‘Yes’ vote on a proposed charter change by a Council person merely allows a vote of the people to occur. It does not necessarily mean the Council person personally approves or disapproves. However, a ‘No’ vote, in essence, is a way of blocking the people from having a voice. We the people, deserve a voice! As it currently stands, as few as four Council persons can elect our mayor.
Next, a return to the Ward system, like we had prior to 1957. This is much more complex and deserves further study. Although I totally support this return, I have proposed the formation of an objective citizen-committee to gather information and present their findings to the voters through a series of community meetings. Consider this: To date, I have identified thirteen neighborhoods in my home town. Only three are home to all seven Council members, with four living close to, or in one neighborhood.
I also support changing the city charter to create term limits. I respect Councilman Sigmon’s position, “If you’re good, it’d be a shame to not let the official continue.” However, when you place the pluses and minuses of term limits on a scale, it tips dramatically to the minus side. Something to consider: “If you’re good” does weigh heavily on the scale. But, is that person ‘good’ at being a politician, one who thinks about the next election, or ‘good” at being a statesman, one who think about the next generation. If properly written, a term limit statute does not permanently eliminate the statesman, but it will expose the politician.
To my Council members: A couple of you are my personal friends. One, I have worked with side-by-side. And, I am well acquainted with all of you. I (we) deserve to know how each of you feel about these topics. Straightforward. I am asking you to go on record supporting direct mayoral election. Do not block the people from having a voice for direct election. It will not cost $20,000, if done properly.
Regarding the Ward system and term limits: Create committees to study the proposed changes. Following the study, allow the committees to present their findings to the people, and then attach all three, individually or at once, to an appropriate election. Please, do not block the opportunity for the people to have a stronger voice in their government. A ‘Yes’ vote is a vote for the people.
To the citizens: As you read more on these issues, always ask yourself, “Why ?” Why would someone vote against giving me and you, an opportunity to have a stronger voice? There is always a reason.
For those who want more, you can read my original transcript presented to City Council, added to the very end of this story.
And that is the way I see it on this September day.
This is Michael saying,
Until next time, and remember the words of Abraham Lincoln.
Here is the transcript of my original City Council presentation:
July 20, 2017
Presentation to Clarksburg City Council:
I am here tonight to propose three amendments to our City Charter:
Return to a Ward System, replacing our present At-Large System.
Direct Election of the Mayor – at large.
Concerning the Ward System: Many of you have stated, “I represent all the citizens.” However, have you asked what the citizens think? I understand the historical problems associated with a Ward System, but the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
A ward system creates geographic diversity and provides a voice for each neighborhood. I counted 13 neighborhoods as I was driving around town. Remove Mr. Ferrari, and we basically have two neighborhoods where Council resides. Being a golfer, I could take a 7-irom and hit three council members homes. A driver and a 3-wood and roll one past the mayor’s house. I could go to Stealey and do the same thing with a 5 wood. I ask, is this fair geographic representation?
I know my Councilmen…I see them in the neighborhood – walking picking up trash, jogging, walking their dogs, and pulling in and out of their garage. I have asked people from other neighborhoods, “Who is your Councilmen? I get blank stares. A ward system provides each designated section of the city with an identity – a councilman, someone they know and someone they can or should be able to approach. A ward system also leads to greater voter turnout. We could use some improvement over our recent 17%. Face it! The people feel disenfranchised. We only have 3 neighborhoods represented.
Moving to the Direct Election of the Mayor: No disrespect to our present mayor. You have represented the city well. Please understand, I understand the role of the Mayor in our present system. However, there is also a certain amount of power, much prestige and satisfaction in holding the position. But, there is something inherently wrong when as few as four people can pick my mayor – the face of Clarksburg: The person who represents us throughout the city, county, state, and at times, the nation. The people deserve a voice.
Lastly, there is Term Limits: Again, I am aware of the advantages and disadvantages, but once again, the pluses far outweigh the minuses. Term limits: Prevent the consolidation of power with one person or with one small group. We eliminate career politicians and create opportunities for statesmen. Theoretically, our elected officials become statesman. people who focus on the next generation. Not politicians who focus on the next election. With term limits, you will always have new and fresh perspectives, Shinnston, only a few miles from out city, recently voted “No” to term limits. The City Council voted “No” to term limits. Talk about job security. I wonder what the residents think about this?
I am asking you to discuss these issues with an open mind toward our future. Place ‘personal’ aside and take it to the citizens. Let us decide. Organize a series of town meetings. Bring in objective experts. Take the time and make the effort to educate and inform our citizens. Make no mistake, I am willing to help. Do not be afraid of change…it is inevitable.
I would like to see these issues on the next ballot, if the majority of Council decides it is worthy. If there is no majority, at least place it on the ballot as an opinion poll. We, the citizens, need, and deserve a voice,
I look forward to seeing and hearing about these issues in upcoming agendas: A return to the Ward System. Direct Election of the Mayor. And Term Limits
Thank you for your time, attention, and this opportunity.
On the whole, these essays encourage us to nurture our better selves—and who among us doesn’t need an occasional nudge toward greater kindness, tolerance, and appreciation of the things that really matter in life?
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