Sunday, January 30, 2011

Charter Change

At last Wednesday's Legal Committee meeting, Hudson Democratic Committee Chair Victor Mendolia submitted a proposal to create a Charter Revision Commission. The goal of the commission would be to identify changes to the Charter that would "optimize efficiency, foster fair and equal representation, and seek the best possible model for responsible government." Mendolia's proposal cites seven specific issues to be considered:
  • increasing the mayoral term to four years
  • redrawing election districts to create districts of equal population
  • having the City Treasurer appointed by the Common Council rather than elected
  • requiring mayoral appointments to be confirmed by the Common Council
  • reducing the number of supervisors representing Hudson in county government
  • eliminating the positions of commissioners
  • adjusting salaries and/or benefits for elected officials
Most critical on this list, in my opinion, is redrawing the election districts. It's sad to contemplate doing away with the wards. The ward divisions of the city have existed for close to two hundred years. Starting out, the four wards were not equal geographically, but they were undoubtedly equal in terms of number of dwellings and population. 

As the city developed and new residential neighborhoods were created, the Third Ward was divided into two districts. In the 20th century, a Fifth Ward was introduced and eventually also became two districts. The boundaries of the First and Second wards are the same today as they were in the 19th century, and the Third Ward is also basically the same, but the Fifth Ward was created out of what was originally the Fourth Ward, dramatically reducing the size of the Fourth Ward. 

To compensate for the fact that wards are of different sizes and populations, the Common Council was a weighted vote. The votes of the aldermen who represent the larger and more populous wards of the city carry more weight than the votes of the aldermen who represent the smaller wards with smaller populations. For example, the votes of the two aldermen representing the Fifth Ward--Robert Donahue and Richard Goetz--carry the weight of 278 votes each, while the votes of the two alderman representing the First Ward--Sarah Sterling and Geeta Cheddie--each carry the weight of only 94 votes. When the two Fifth Ward aldermen vote together in the affirmative, they cast 556 votes, more than half what's needed for a simple majority (1,011). When the two aldermen from the First Ward vote together, their votes equal the single vote cast by the Common Council President (188), are only four votes more than those cast by one Second Ward alderman (184), and are equal to just 70 percent of the vote cast by one Third Ward alderman (266). Although the people of the First Ward have two representatives on the Common Council, because of the weighted vote, they are significantly underrepresented. I use the First Ward as an example because I live in the First Ward and used to represent the First Ward on the Common Council, but the same is true for the Fourth Ward. The two aldermen representing the Fourth Ward--Sheila Ramsey and Ohrine Stewart--also cast votes that are worth only 94 votes each toward a simple majority.   

The weighted vote is recalculated every ten years, after the national census, so it's time to recalculate again. This time, instead of adjusting the weight of the vote for each ward, the boundaries of the election districts should be adjusted so that the population of each district is the same and the vote of the alderman representing each district carries the same weight. 

It's been recommended that this process begin with the seven districts that already exist: Ward 1, Ward 2, Ward 3-1, Ward 3-2, Ward 4, Ward 5-1, and Ward 5-2. The boundaries of the districts would then be shifted as needed to create seven districts of equal population. Each of these seven districts would then have one representative in the Common Council instead of two. Although aldermen aren't paid huge salaries, reducing the number of aldermen from ten to seven would be a saving to the City, or it could allow the City to give the aldermen a budget-neutral salary increase--from $4,000 a year, which is what they get now, to a little more than $5,700 a year. 

It's an idea whose time has come.         

1 comment:

  1. It might be easier to remove the flag pole from Promenade Hill :)