Marion voters will get a chance in November to change the way they’ve been electing city council members for decades. We think the change is a good idea necessitated by good news: namely that Marion is growing.
Under the current city charter, all seven Marion council members are elected at-large, even though four members represent wards. A ballot measure pushed by citizen petition would require that ward members be elected only by voters who live in their ward. Two at-large members and the mayor still would be elected citywide.
This change would help ensure that each area of the growing city has stronger representation. Decades ago, when Marion’s population was below 20,000, and when its ward populations also were much smaller, it made sense to elect representatives at-large. But now, with Marion’s population at 37,000 and growing steadily, ward representation makes much more sense.
We understand there is opposition to the change on the Marion City Council and among some residents. One big worry is that ward members will only advocate for the interests of their ward, even if it’s not in the interest of the city as a whole.
We’d point out that hasn’t been a problem in Cedar Rapids, where council members elected by district often have been at the forefront of pursuing citywide solutions and initiatives. In this city and many others, council members have been able to advocate for their neighborhoods without sparking the turf wars feared by some in Marion.
And, conversely, ward elections can improve representation, leveling the playing field between fast-growing parts of town and older neighborhoods that might otherwise receive less attention. Constituents voting in a smaller bloc may develop a closer relationship to their ward representative.
Under the current system, a council member elected to represent a ward may or may not receive a majority of votes from that ward. Changing the charter would ensure that ward residents have a stronger say in decisions about who will represent them.
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Any time a charter change is proposed, it’s a significant moment. We’d urge Marion residents to get informed. Voters created the current system 40 years ago. This year’s voters have a chance to put their stamp on the city’s future.
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