January 20, 2018

Three-year City Council terms merit consideration

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Worcester City Hall

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.

That’s needed.

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?

112 thoughts on “Three-year City Council terms merit consideration

  1. First it was getting rid of the Dover Amendment and now this…..it’s kind of funny that the writer of the article mentions the council getting to work…..the above two issues presented by Mo Bergman are not examples of getting to work.

    There are many many many many urban issues this council and past council’s that Bergie has been on that need effort but have been avoided by Bergie & Company.

    A urban core housing stock in the shittah, streets cleaned once a year, secondary business districts with no trash barrel service and you call Gaffney boorish?

    The Duck Confit at Dead Horse isnt going to entice Anthony and Marie, Bob and Jennifer or Jose and Maria to buy a three decker on Benefit Street with the crappy city services we have in the city and the enormous amounts of Dead Men walking up and down our streets due to poor management at the hospital on Queen Street.

    Wake Up Worcester Sun….this three year three term BS is not work…..its deflection like the Dover nonsense was from the real work needed in the city to move it forward.

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