Change and Progress
Clarksburg, West Virginia is my home town, but it is their future.
"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything" - George Bernard Shaw.
On July 20, I proposed three changes to the Clarksburg, West Virginia City Charter. I assure you, these changes were well researched and given much thought prior to the presentation. Since 1972, politics has been an important part of my life. I have seen first hand the ugly side and the satisfying side at every level. In a former life and in my former city of residence, I taught the subject for almost two decades, helped run successful political campaigns, and a few unsuccessful ones. As Charles Dickens said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Nonetheless, I learned much about myself, change, and progress.
When I returned to my hometown of Clarksburg, after a 32-year absence, much had changed and much had stayed the same. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." After studying the political climate and the election process in Clarksburg, I became convinced my city could benefit, in many ways, from changes in the election process. That being said, let's review some local history: In 1957 Clarksburg switched to an at-large system for electing councilpersons, with the mayor elected by City Council.
The at-large system has its merits (in theory) but it is not right for Clarksburg and does not provide fair and diverse representation for the population. Therefore, I proposed three changes in Clarksburg's City Charter: (1) Adoption of a Ward System where the city would be divided into 6 equally populated districts, with one councilperson elected from each ward. (2) Direct election of the Mayor, who would run at-large. (3) Term limits.
My presentation to City Council explains (briefly) my position, based on 32 years of political experience, living in a city with a ward system, extensive research, and studying voting trends. When we had, in the last local election, only 1,718 people voting (17%), with slightly over 10,000 registered voters deciding who leads our city, something is wrong. Could it be our voters feel disenfranchised? Currently, six councilpersons live in (or close to) two of 13 identified neighborhoods in Clarksburg. I also stated my reasons for adopting the direct election of the mayor: As it stands, as few as four people could (theoretically) decide who becomes our mayor. Just four...something to think about. Also, I have always advocated term limits for all elected positions and my Council presentation states a few of my reasons.
Here is the entire transcript of my presentation. Unfortunately, speakers are only allowed 3 minutes - a subject for another day:
Presentation to Clarksburg City Council: July 20, 2017
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-iron 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 three of them in the neighborhood – walking and 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 if they choose.
A ward system also leads (historically) 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.
Make no mistake, I understand the role of the Mayor in our present system. However, there is also a certain amount of power, prestige, influence and satisfaction in holding the position. Nevertheless, 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: They prevent the consolidation of power by one person or with one small group. We eliminate the many problems associated with 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, WV recently voted “No” to term limits. The City Council voted “No” to term limits. Ultimate 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.
The reaction from City Council was as expected. However, there was one encouraging comment when Councilman Kennedy asked, for the record, these issues be placed on the their next work session.
I understand that Council has the power to kill these proposals or...to move them ahead. I also understand this is a lengthy process. But, it is a necessary process. As George Bernard Shaw said, " Progress is impossible without change." Thus, I leave you with this: I strongly feel the final decision on our future should be in the hands of the people...not in the hands of a few.
Something more to think about: Morgantown, Princeton, Wheeling, Elkins, and even tiny Salem, West Virginia with a population of 1,586 - they all have ward systems. And, Salem had a greater voter turnout than Clarksburg. We need change. We need a ward system. We need the direct election of the Mayor. We need term limits.
And that's the way see it, on this July 30th, 2017.
Until next time, I look forward to your feedback,