Council elections abandon ward system

Dublin City Council members unanimously voted to change city elections from the ward system to at-large on Monday night following two public hearings with low attendance.

With filing now open for the May elections, any of the four incumbents that choose to run will face any challengers for a single seat on the council.

On Friday night, seven citizens were present to address the change.

Former Mayor Tom Gordon was among them, asking why council members were deciding the change rather than putting the decision to an election.

Council member John Johnson said he had been told by the city’s attorney that there were problems putting it on the ballot.

The attorney confirmed this in the Monday night hearing (which had two citizens in attendance) as he was called and put on speaker phone. He reported that there was not a statutory authorization or provision in the city charter to put the decision into an election.

“What’s done in ordinance can be undone by ordinance,” he added, indicating that the switch can be handled the same way as when the city went from at-large to the ward system.

City Manager Nancy Wooldridge also cited problems in including the election alongside City Council races as the council would have to immediately restructure if the city had voted it to be abolished. 

Gordon also reiterated the history of the ward system in the city, saying a Tarleton student accused the city of unequal representation in how the at-large system was being handled. 

Council members questioned how the ward system allows for equal representation when the City has to make calls for one candidate in some wards and that some wards get 30 votes in an election while others get five or six times that.

“At least, [with at-large elections] we are getting people wanting to run,” Johnson said. “We’ll get better input that way.” 

Ben Pate asked the council about process in filling vacant seats with council members, reporting that the positions are publicized with interim candidates appearing at meetings.

Johnson also suggested the council could set tours of the city to see the problems affecting all of Dublin, but remarked that council members get to see other wards in addition to their own during regular driving.

Donna and Steve Hightower voiced their support for the change, saying they don’t see any issues that don’t affect all of Dublin and that citizens can call all of the council members when they have concerns.

Council member Layne Golden reported being against the change in the past but said he decided that the “pros outweigh the cons.” He also said that residents usually elect candidates that are passionate about issues that they would like addressed. “I don’t believe I’ve ever had a call from my ward,” he said.

Other members agreed that residents call council members for assistance without thought to which ward they represent.

Janella Hendon also asked the council how the ward areas were decided as all in attendance agreed they were confusingly and/or ineffectively drawn.

Former Citizen Publisher Mac McKinnon reported being a long-time advocate of the election change, describing the ward system as ineffective for Dublin’s size.

“Dublin is small enough that residents will get represented,” he said. “[Under the ward system,] it’s hard to get quorum, hard to operate. The City could operate a lot easier.”

Gordon remarked in the Monday hearing that apparently there wasn’t enough interest for people to come and ask questions.

Council members noted that any time the ward system had been addressed in recent years that residents expressed a desire to go to at-large.

During the special meeting, the council also unanimously voted for a week extension for the city auditor.

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