Following a highly contentious meeting Tuesday night, it appears two referendums will be added to the ballot in November: one to establish a city manager form of government and the second to make Common Council seats open to citywide election.
The council begrudgingly agreed to a public hearing and subsequent vote in two weeks on whether to allow the entire city to vote for council positions. This decision came after Mayor Dayton King vetoed an amendment to the City Charter that would add a city manager position, which the council passed by a 4-2 vote on July 22.
But King is encouraging Second Ward Councilman Arthur Simonds and Councilman-At-Large James Robinson, who voted against adding a city manager position and are both in favor of citywide council elections, to vote to override his veto in an effort to put the two referendums on the ballot in November.
It seems that if the council does not agree to both referendums, neither will appear on the ballot. To override a mayor’s veto, the council needs five votes.
“If the council wants voters to decide on a city manager position,” King said, “then they will have to let citywide elections take place.”
King had announced Friday he intended to veto the amendment to the City Charter in an attempt to put a second referendum on the ballot.
Citywide council elections would prevent council members from being elected and re-elected by family, friends and neighbors, King said. King added that he wants all voters to decide council seats, not just those from a particular ward.
“I am using the leverage I have to put both of these referendums on the ballot in November,” said King, who does not believe the city manager position will be approved by voters.
King said that by opening council positions to a citywide vote, more qualified candidates will run.
King believes Second Ward Councilwoman Robin Wentworth introduced the idea of a city manager form of government because she was unable to win election to become councilwoman-at-large.
“To me, it’s pretty simple,” he said. “I believe there are still some sour grapes from the last election.”
Wentworth fired back by saying: “You continue to say there are sour grapes, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. You say you want voters to decide on a city manager position, but you’re vetoing the law. … You are speaking out of both sides of your mouth, Mr. Mayor.”
Fifth Ward Councilman Jay Zarrelli said he wants the public to decide both issues. In November, however, he will not vote for citywide elections for council positions, saying the law being proposed is flawed.
“What if six council members come from just the Second Ward,” Zarrelli questioned. “Then would that leave the other wards under-served.”
But King believes the issues that face each neighborhood in the city are very similar.
“The council members already do work outside of their respective wards,” King said. “This would not be that much of a stretch.”
The council will vote to override the mayor’s veto and decide whether to allow citywide elections for their positions on Aug. 26.