Some changes may need to be made to alderman system

December 4th, 2019     Opinion

There have been increasing comments made to us this year about the absence of elected officials at some civic and other public events.

The comments we have heard have been focused more on city than county officials.

Of course, all elected officials need to support and participate in public events as much as possible. Also, many of the meetings and programs deal with matters that only aldermen are in a position to really affect as well.

However, the jobs of county supervisor and, even more so, city aldermen are considered to be only part-time jobs, not full time.

In their defense, our aldermen have other regular jobs that pay their bills and are their priorities. They do receive a salary as aldermen but certainly not enough to live on.

Supervisors receive considerably more money for their public service and do not tend to have other full-time jobs so they may be available more.

Some of the public events require only a brief appearance and officials may be able to get away from their other obligations for those. But many events last an hour or more. Some occur after business hours when there should be no work conflict.

Of course, anyone who chooses to run for a representative public office should know that extraordinary demands are going to be made on their time, and patience. They should be prepared for that. They also should run out of a desire to serve the community and not just because they are looking for some government job. Welcoming visitors, representing the community and hearing programs that affect the community are just part of that service.

But the reality remains that aldermen have two masters in terms of jobs.

One solution might be to go ahead and simply pay aldermen as full-time city representatives. That would add about $200,000 or so (about three percent for the general city part of the budget and not including tourism or utilities) to the city budget each year but all their focus would be on city government.

Another might be to only elect individuals who do not have other full-time commitments. They might be retirees, not primary wage-earners in a household or individuals for whom the income is not a factor.

Those decisions should be up to the taxpayers.

Some changes to city government are likely coming in the next few years, regardless.

Some serving aldermen say they may not run again two years from now.

The boundaries of the city’s four wards may need to be redrawn after the 2020 Census due to populations shift. And once the city reaches a population of 10,000 – at our present growth rate likely in the next few years – the city will go from five to seven aldermen.

We could change to a different form of government entirely, such as having commissioners instead of aldermen, and we could decide to have all our aldermen elected at-large rather than by ward.

But, for the most part, the present system is working well. And unless some changes are made, we will have to accept that aldermen are part-time only and cannot be expected to give that role full-time attention. We hope they will do as much as they can, but that’s a factor that needs to be included when we choose our representatives.

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