Three-year terms for Worcester city councilors? Term limits, too?
That’s the kind of thinking we need.
That’s not necessarily because we agree with these ideas — on term limits, we don’t, preferring to keep that power at the ballot box. We need this kind of thinking because, whatever the setting, reconsidering the way we do things is almost always uncomfortable and brings resistance. And it can bring about shifts that make a difference.
It’s not the obvious or immediate sort of issue for a city councilor to bring up. We’re glad Councilor-at-large Morris A. Bergman did. His order aimed at re-examining several of the basics of how the council operates was approved at the council’s meeting Jan. 16.
We urge a focus on the main proposal, that of lengthening the term each city councilor serves from two years to three.
Nothing’s going to happen right away. In the wake of Tuesday’s vote, the city solicitor will get back to the City Council regarding what it would take to make the change. And Bergman’s stated intention is for any term adjustment to apply to future councils, not the one inaugurated this month.
However arduous — such as a charter change — or straightforward the procedure would be, the ball’s now rolling on “how.” The real question is whether Worcester would want this.
In our view, we probably would. Three-year terms would lower election costs and, in the long run, would likely encourage council effectiveness and citizen engagement.
Turnout is a perpetual problem here, particularly in odd-numbered years, when the municipal elections happen. We can peg turnout in odd-numbered years at about 15 percent, plus or minus a few sorry points. The 2017 municipal election held to form, coming in at just over 15 percent.
And this is for elections of local officials: people we know or have access to, with whom we share a place to call home, and whose choices and actions relate directly to our daily lives and surroundings.
Adding a year to what had been a two-year term would be a 50 percent addition to the time to lead and make those impacts. That fact alone might inspire more to take the election seriously enough to vote. The change would also mean fewer times citizens are asked to go to the polls, and often they would get more done there.
As Bergman points out, moving city councilors to three-year terms would mean those elections would sync with state elections, which occur in even-numbered years, half the time; and presidential elections a fourth of the time.
Perhaps the most compelling part of the idea is that the extra year for councilors to spend studying the issues, listening to constituents and hammering out decisions — time knuckling down — instead of campaigning for re-election could make for a more productive City Council.
Spurred by development downtown, Worcester is changing as a whole in key and promising ways, and is in need of wisdom and work.
Ideas don’t have to be earthshaking to have resounding impact. The procedural, somewhat mundane, suggestions Bergman brought before his fellow council members — longer terms, term limits, attendance requirements, a change in the way the 11-member body’s vice chairman is chosen — are commendable. They aim to improve City Council functioning for the long term, in ways outside of the hugely important say voters get every two years.
Make that — maybe — every three years?