MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

November 15, 2011

Council OKs ballot measures

Voters to have opportunity to approve ward voting

— City councilors approved three ballot measures that, if approved, would change key provisions of municipal elections.

The most controversial measure will give voters a chance to decide whether they want to abandon the at-large voting system for City Council elections.

If voters pass that measure, city councilors would be elected by voters who live within a candidate’s respective ward. The mayor still would be elected by a citywide vote.

Another measure would schedule elections earlier in the year to allow new city councilors to take part in the budgeting process. It also would accommodate changes in state and federal laws that protect voting rights of active service members.

A third measure would set a specific date for city councilors and the mayor to take office. If these two measures are approved, municipal elections would be conducted the second Tuesday of January in even-number years. Those who are elected would take office the second Tuesday in March

Ward voting is an issue that has been debated several years. Mayor John Tyler Hammons proposed a similar amendment in 2009, but that measure never made it out of a special committee formed to review possible charter changes.

Hammons has said at-large voting dilutes the voices of voters, where ward voting lends itself to a more representative government. Opponents of ward voting, however, say ward voting could prove divisive. Ward I Councilman David Jones, one of eight members who voted to place the ward-voting measure on the Feb. 14 ballot, made clear his stance on the issue.

“I am going to vote to allow the voters a chance to decide this issue,” Jones said during the discussion preceding his vote. “But the facts as I know them now, I am definitely against this.”

Jones and others urged Hammons and city administrators to facilitate public forums so voters will have all the facts before they decide the issue in February.

City Manager Greg Buckley said while the administration will “not take a stand one way or another” with regard to ward voting, efforts will be made to facilitate public forums to educate voters about all three ballot measures.

Ward voting proponents concede getting the measure on the ballot in February is the first step in a long process.

“We’ve got a lot of canvassing to do,” said Derrick Reed, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “I don’t see why there would be any opposition to this by the candidates.”

With ward voting, Reed said, votes would carry more weight and promote diversity of opinion on the City Council. He said moving to a ward system would be more cost-effective for candidates and promote equal representation in city government.

Marlon Coleman, pastor of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church said he believes the City Council has taken a step in the right direction.

“This is one step closer to the type of communities we want to mirror,” Coleman said. “This is critical not only for the electoral count, it will make Muskogee more attractive overall.”

Reed said the NAACP has scheduled a meeting for noon Saturday to discuss ward voting and make plans to sell the idea to Muskogee voters.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot @muskogeephoenix.com.

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