Muskogee’s system of allowing voters throughout the city to elect City Council ward representatives has come under scrutiny during the past few years.
Some believe at-large voting consolidates power within certain areas of the city. Those who favor the present system say restricting the election of ward representatives to voters within a representative’s district could prove divisive.
Two candidates for the Ward IV City Council seat held by Councilor Jackie Luckey, who is stepping aside after serving one term, cited pros and cons for both systems.
Wayne Johnson said that although both at-large and ward voting have advantages and disadvantages, he personally likes the advantage of being able to elect representatives from each ward.
“What I like about citywide voting is I have an opportunity to vote four times for someone who represent closer to my views or beliefs,” said Johnson, the maintenance director for Muskogee Public Schools. “The more opportunity we have to vote, the more democracy is present.”
Ron Venters Sr., a former city councilor who ran in 2008 against Mayor John Tyler Hammons, said he would support the voters’ decision in the Feb. 14 election.
“I believe that city councilors should represent the ward that they live in and make decisions that are for the best interest of the city,” Venters said. “Currently, a representative of a ward seeking the office of city councilor can lose in his (or) her ward yet be elected to the office by the votes from other wards of the city.”
Johnson expressed similar sentiments regarding a councilor’s ability to represent the city’s interest as a whole.
“I believe it is imperative that the City Council truly represents our community and the diversity we have,” he said. “If a person is voted in to City Council, he or she should have a process for listening to people in his or her ward.”
Venters said in order to achieve the balance both candidates desire, Muskogee might want to consider a hybrid system.
“Perhaps the best solution would be following the example of other cities,” he said. “Some communities avoid this dilemma by having at-large voting for a few council positions while they still maintain the representation from wards.”
The election for four ward representatives and the city’s next mayor is Feb. 14.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.