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Just Say No To Ordinance 4819


Tonight, the City Council of Lewiston is set to vote on Ordinance 4819. In lamens terms, the ordinance would create a new requirement in City Code whereby if the City elects to vote No on Prop 1 and create a Strong Mayor/Council form of government, the mayor must be elected by a majority of voters. If no candidate in the November general election does receive a majority, the top two vote - getters advance to a run - off held no longer than 30 days after the initial election.


I strongly oppose such an ordinance. On the surface the ordinance seems innocent enough. But in many ways; monetarily, governmentally and democratically the effort smacks of elitism and an ignorance of some basic functions of our government.


Firstly, another election equals more money. In 2019, when there was not a proposed change of government on the ballot, the election cost $60,000 to hold. This election will be more complex, meaning a more expensive ballot per print. Further, if more than three candidates run for Mayor it all but ensures a run - off in November equaling thousands more spent on an unnecessary election. Maybe we could spend that money on issues impacting our city (mental health, substance abuse, homelessness).


Secondly, this sure does smack of trying to give voters another reason to keep the City Manager/Council form of government by making the transition and election unnecessarily complex.


Thirdly, it creates another barrier to the average person running for Mayor. This is ironic considering the Council tied itself up in knots for weeks about paying the Mayor enough to attract quality candidates to run. I applaud such efforts, but cannot ignore the downright cynicism of then turning around and extending out the election season, meaning candidates have to raise or spend even more money to even have a chance of getting elected.


Fourthly, it is an undeniable fact run - offs lead to a smaller turnout than a regular general election. Take Boise and Idaho Falls for example. In 2017, Idaho Falls mayor was reelected in a run - off which saw 25 percent fewer voters show up than in November. More recently, in Boise, their mayor was elected in a run - off with several thousand fewer voters showing up to turn out.


The arguments made for this Ordinance run the gambit from ensuring an elected Mayor has majority support (Mike Collins) to ensuring an elected mayor with extraordinary powers (John Pernsteiner) has the support of as many voters as possible. Both are deeply flawed.


First, addressing the latter Lewiston is one of the only cities in the entire state of Idaho to have a City Manager. Further, all those cities with an elected mayor and council seem to be doing just fine. Those mayors don't have extraordinary powers. They lead the city and their votes count on issues no more or less than any other councilor.


Mayors operate under the same constraints as anybody else, answering to political and constituent concerns. To pass an agenda, a mayor would/has to work with councilors and constituents. In Lewiston that would be no different as opposed to our current, unelected City Manager who does not answer to constituents and simply needs to make four councilors happy to keep his/her job.


Addressing the former, not to be too technical, but we live in a system of government whereby a plurality can elect its preferred candidate. If so, that candidate will need to earn the support of more voters to stay in office. If a mayor is elected with a hardcore minority of support, they will need the support of others to stay in office down the road.


While I hesitate to be cynical I also find it ironic a Council composed of no individual who earned over 23 percent support (and that Councilor opposes the Ordinance) thinks a yet to be elected individual should far exceed their vote total. Non sitting Councilor has any idea what burden that places on a candidate or real life examples of its supposed benefits vs. its negatives.


Well, I do. I have lived in cities with elected mayors and with run - offs. I fully expect this Ordinance to pass due to the majority on the Council being against changing our city's system of governance and generally being ignorant of our electoral processes. It is wrong to raise additional barriers to citizens simply running to make their community better and it is pure cynicism to throw up arguments not born out by any evidence.


As I said, I fully expect this Ordinance to pass. When it does, and when the community makes its wishes known and votes no on Prop 1 (ensuring we elect our top city official), I will vote to repeal this anti - democratic and frankly insulting Ordinance.


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