Marion residents may be asked to decide how officials are elected

Council to discuss possible changes to city charter next week

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MARION — A discussion is underway in Marion regarding how the city’s elected officials are chosen and it could lead to a ballot referendum in November.

At issue is whether residents who live in one of the city’s four wards should be allowed to vote for candidates running for election in a different ward.

In Marion, four members of the seven-member City Council represent each of the city’s wards, but voters are allowed to cast votes for candidates outside the ward where they live.

Voters also choose two at-large council members and a mayor, who serves as a third at-large member.

Mary Lou Pazour, an at-large member of the council, says she thinks this system is outdated and would like to see a stop to the cross-ward voting. If that happened, voters in the 1st Ward, for example, would only vote to elect a 1st Ward council member, the two at-large members and the mayor. They would no longer cast votes in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th ward races.

“When Marion went to Home Rule back in the ’70s, the total number in the population of the city was what (is) in the population of each of the four wards (currently),” Pazour said. “There is the feeling that one segment of the population could fill city council.”

From 2000 to 2010, Marion’s population boomed from just more than 26,000 residents to about 35,000, according to U.S. Census data. Currently, the city has more than 37,000 residents.

In 1970, Marion’s population was about 18,000. It climbed to about 19,000 in 1980 and about 20,000 in 1990, according to census data.

At their Aug. 4 meeting, council members directed city staff to draft language that potentially could be placed on the November ballot, asking voters to decide if they want to change the city’s charter to change the way elections are determined.

In seconding a motion to have city staff develop potential ballot language, 2nd Ward Council member Joe Spinks said he is opposed to making changes, but wants city officials to have control of crafting the language.

The City Council is to discuss the proposed language during a work session set for 4 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 1225 Sixth Ave. A vote on whether to adopt the language and place it on the November ballot is likely to come during the regular council meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18.

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