Columns

Let the People Vote

By Anne Hassler Heidel, editor

I’m going to start this column with a compliment, one I’ve already posted on social media. “I’ve always found the city commissioners to be reasonable and fair. The 3-to-5 commission question isn’t a referendum on the commission’s performance but an opportunity for the public to vote once and for all on whether we should increase the number of members on the city commission to five or remain at three.”

I’ve been spearheading a petition drive to get just such a question on our November ballot, but I had kind of hoped the commission would step up and act on its own. Mayor Tom Brown, who seemed to be the only commissioner even mildly entertaining the idea, made a statement Monday (see below) that he’d heard little support for changing and the city needs to invest its time in more important things so he would not be making a motion for the commission to adopt the ordinance City Attorney Jeff Houston had put together. Disappointing but not terribly surprising. It was clear the support from the other two commissioners was not there.

We obviously run in different circles because the feedback I’ve heard is about 80% in favor of increasing the size of the commission to five members.

Another bit of supporting evidence Mayor Brown handed out was an article from Forbes magazine which listed McPherson as the No. 5 top small community economy in the nation. Commissioner Bob Moore chimed in with a “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” comment and the issue died. (You can read the Mayor’s full comments below.)

Or did it? There’s still time to sign the petition if you’d like to see the question put to a public vote. Better yet, the commission could always approve that a question be put on the ballot without me knocking on doors for more signatures. They could also make a clear statement that they support everyone’s right to free speech by reassuring residents there will be no repercussions for anyone that signs it. You’d be surprised how many people have passed on signing because they were afraid their budget might be cut, their job might be in danger or their access to the commissioners cut off. Nothing I’ve seen in the many meetings I’ve sat in on would make me think the commissioners would hold a grudge like that. If anything, the Mayor seems to go out of his way to be fair to those who disagree with him, myself included.

What would having five accomplish you might ask. Much of it depends on the five personalities involved but it could bring in some fresh ideas, new voices not currently being heard or added skills that three might not have. While it does increase the opportunity for dissent and disagreement, that’s not a bad thing. It fosters more openness and discussion which, frankly, are the backbone of democracy. Yes we may be the fifth best small community economy in the nation but are there things that the top four positions are doing that we could be doing as well?

No, we’re not broke, but could we use an upgrade so we run even better? Now is not the time to rest on our laurels but look at ways to keep improving, including whether it’s time to increase the number of members in our commission. The public deserves an opportunity to decide. Sign the petition. Stop by our office during office hours to sign.

Mayors Statement 5-21-18

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