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Wednesday, 22 February 2012 20:44

Canton town board hopes to move away from perpetual election cycle

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Canton’s elected leaders could find their two-year terms of office doubling if voters support a proposed change to give the mayor and board of aldermen four years in office.

The town board will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Feb. 28 to gauge residents’ feelings about shifting from the current two-year terms to four-year, staggered terms.

“I think it would behoove our community to make that decision,” said Mayor Michael Ray.

Ray said he did not think that adding another two years to the terms would make much difference.

Unlike most towns, Canton’s mayor and four aldermen have to run for election every two years. Every other town board in the region, as well as county commissioners, serves four-year terms.

While Canton’s town board has long toyed with the idea of switching to four-year terms, it would mark a change for Canton voters who are likely accustomed to the more frequent election cycle. The town board discussed the issue at their meeting last week and decided to leave the final decision up to voters.

“It’s been the way it is for a long time,” Alderman Ed Underwood said of the two-year model. “That is what the people have got used to. I think having their input is going to be very important.”

Because the entire board and the mayor run for re-election every two years, a perfect storm of circumstances could saddle the town with a completely new board and mayor, and institutional knowledge could disappear with the previous leaders.

“We were worried about the possibility,” said Alderman Patrick Willis.

Fellow Alderman Jimmy Flynn first broached the idea during his last term but no action was taken.

“I’ve been pursuing that ever since I got re-elected,” Flynn said. “If you do the staggered terms, you don’t run the risk of the whole board coming in new.”

In 2007, Canton saw three of the five seats on the board flip in a single election. And again in 2009, three of the five seats flipped. A wholesale change of the board hasn’t taken place in at least four decades, however.

Two extra years would also allow leaders to tackle longer-term projects more easily.

“I’m sure it would give anyone who is elected a longer time to complete things,” Ray said, adding that candidates would realize personal savings because they would not have to spend on campaign materials every two years.

However, a longer term is also a bigger commitment from the candidate’s standpoint.

“It’s seemed a long time since I’ve been elected, and that was only three months ago,” joked the newly elected Willis.

Although the board is required to hold a public hearing before switching to four-year terms, the law does not require residents to have a vote. The town has elected to make it a ballot issue in November.

“I feel this should be put before the people,” Ray said. “The electorate might like the possibility to have a quick turnaround.”

In addition to four-year terms, the proposal would also institute staggered terms, meaning only part of the board is up for election every two years.

If the new terms are approved, the two aldermen who receive the fewest votes in the 2013 town election would serve for only two years and then have to seek re-election again in 2015 before going to a permanent four-year cycle. The two aldermen and the mayoral candidate with the most votes during next year’s election would begin serving four-year terms at that time.

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