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BE mayor wants no more wards

By Staff | Oct 12, 2009

Rob Hammond

The Blue Earth Charter Commission has yet to hold its one meeting for the year.

But, when they do meet, the commission may determine how residents elect council members in the future.

Mayor Rob Hammond says he’s asking the eight-member commission to consider disbanding the ward system in favor of at-large elections.

“I think the current system has outlived its usefulness. I believe electing candidates at-large would make for better government,” he says.

The mayor is the only City Council position elected by all voters.

Hammond, who won re-election to a fourth term in November, says making the city a single-voting district has some advantages.

Some of the benefits include ensuring residents have a choice when they vote on election day and council members not having to resign if they move out of their ward.

“We’ve lost good, experienced and knowledgeable people because they have moved out of their ward,” he says.

Recently, Rick Scholtes announced he’s planning to give up his council seat because he has purchased a house outside his ward.

Commission chairman Dave Classon says a meeting will be held fairly soon to decide if a recommendation will be made to the council.“We’ll have to amend the city charter to allow the change, if that’s what we decide,” he says. “The council will make the ultimate decision.”

Classon says it’s his understanding a simple majority vote is needed to recommend a change to the city officials.

Hammond says the council must vote unanimously, 7-0, to do away with the ward system.

Councilman Glenn Gaylord and Classon say elimination of wards isn’t anything new and has been talked about in the past.

Gaylord also serves on the Charter Commission and has been against making any changes, however, now he may be leaning the other way.

The Ward 2 councilman has been slow to embrace at-large elections because it may result in some residents not having a voice on the council.

“This is one issue that’s not clear cut. With a ward system you get to know the people and their issues,” he says. “Under an at-large system people who are on the wrong side of the tracks may be ignored.”

Hammond says most residents probably don’t know the boundaries of their ward. He says because Blue Earth is a small town, many issues are the same citywide.

The mayor also is concerned that while some wards have many people interested in serving on the council, others do not.

Hammond says many candidates, including himself, have run unopposed and he doesn’t think that is beneficial for the residents.

“It’s important for the public to hear the views of the candidates so they know how they stand on issues,” adds Hammond.

Gaylord agrees with Hammond and says that’s partly the reason why he could have a change of heart.

“If people want to be represented in their ward, someone is going to have to step up and get involved. Otherwise changes will have to made,” he says.

Hammond says if the council decides not to change the ward system, the public could gather enough signatures on petitions to hold a referendum on the issue.