By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
Proposed city charter changes for Muskogee’s City Council elections splits the sentiment of many voters.
The same is true for three candidates for the Ward II City Council seat, who took just as many positions.
The change to be considered by voters Feb. 14 is whether city councilors should be elected by voters citywide or by only those who live within a representative’s voting district.
Proponents say ward voting truly represents the will of the district and is a purer form of representative democracy. Those who oppose the idea fear that it could prove divisive.
Michelle Green, a homemaker and community volunteer who is making her first bid for public office, said she planned to vote for the proposition.
Dan Hall, the security director for Muskogee Public Schools, said he has reservations about the proposed change.
Ward II Councilor Shawn Raper, a real estate broker and the only incumbent seeking re-election, opposes the measure that is on the ballot.
All three candidates, however, recognized the need for city councilors to advocate for the greater good regardless of what voters decide.
“I support it, but (I) have some reservations,” Green said. “More than ever we need to address problems as a whole community.”
She noted that the proposed charter change would place no restrictions on campaign contributions.
She also expressed concern that the present at-large system contributes to low voter turnout.
Hall described ward voting as “a double-edged sword.”
“It gives people of each ward the privilege to vote their candidates into office,” he said. “My biggest fear is it will divide Muskogee more than just by wards.”
Hall said he believed that at-large voting holds city councilors more accountable to all of the city’s residents.
“If the people are for or against ward voting, they need to vote,” Hall said. “My opinion on this matter is only worth one vote.”
Raper also expressed fears about division.
“I don't think the city will benefit from decisions being made based on what is best for my part of the city,” he said. “That will serve to divide the community, not bring it together.”
Although Raper doesn’t support the change being presented to voters, he said he would support a hybrid option that has been discussed.
He said it would provide at-large elections for four ward representatives and the mayor and four city councilors elected by ward.
“This will keep a majority of the council accountable to the whole city and all of the voters,” Raper said.
“The other seat would be elected by only the ward and would certainly serve as an advocate for that ward’s specific needs.”
In addition to deciding whether to adopt the proposed change, city voters will choose four ward representatives and the city’s next mayor Feb. 14.
A runoff election is scheduled for April 3 if it is needed.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.