Jonesboro city council members are selected by voters throughout the city, but at least one alderman thinks they should be voted on by ward. Alderman L.J. Bryant said he has crafted an ordinance that would allow voters to decide how city council members are selected.
He thinks the current system limits the number of candidates and allows the specific needs of wards to be overlooked. His ordinance will go before committee Tuesday (July 28) and then it could head to the council for a full vote. The council on its own could change the rule, but Bryant said he prefers for it to appear on the November ballot.
“I think we should push towards voting by ward … I think it makes for better government,” he said.
Jonesboro has six wards with two positions each meaning there are 12 total council members. As it currently stands, six of those positions are voted upon every two years. A council member has to live in a particular ward to run, but the entire city votes on each race.
What that means is that each council member has to cater to the city’s entire 80,000 person population, similar to what mayoral candidates have to do. Having to reach out to so many voters can be costly, so it limits who can run for city council, Bryant said.
Under his proposal, a candidate would have to target a much smaller share of voters and it would be easier to meet with potential constituents.
The council is the city’s legislative body, similar to Congress, while the mayor is the executive similar to the president. The executive office was designed to deal with broader, macro problems, while the legislature is designed to deal with micro problems within the communities it serves, Bryant added.
Bryant, who has been on the council for three years, compares the current system to the police department. During each shift, a set number of officers are assigned to patrol designated sections of the city. This ensures better call times and increased public safety. If all the officers on duty just roved the entire city, it would make the system far less efficient.
A second problem is that specific problems within wards could be overlooked. Hypothetically, if an alderman or alderwoman doesn’t address those problems, the people within that micro community within the city can’t necessarily replace that elected official.
Changing the system to ward voting has been a topic of discussion for decades, but nothing has ever come of it. Once the ordinance reaches the council, it will have to be read three times, but an emergency clause might have to be voted on to allow for fewer readings to ensure it makes it to the ballot printer.
Switching to a ward based vote may seem like a subtle change to city government, but it does two things that Bryant thinks nearly everyone would agree on. It gives individual voters more power to hold their elected officials accountable, and it allows for more people to participate in the process of governance.
“We think that the legislature should be the closest branch to the people,” he added.