Reasons to keep Iola government small, nimble

opinions

March 31, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Iolans will go to the polls Tuesday to express their collective opinion on the size our city’s governing body should be.
Over the past two weeks the Register has published articles in which proponents ar-gued that Iola would be best served by a four-member commission and a mayor, all elected at large; a seven member commission and a mayor or an eight-member commission and a mayor.
While the 14-member volunteer advisory group recommended seven members, with four elected by wards and three at large, it was an alternative choice. Six of the 14 favored the five-member body, all elected at large. The other eight votes were split between an eight-member council and a mayor and a five-member commission. As no consensus could be reached, it was decided to vote again and ask each member to make a first and second choice.
The first-choice votes remained the same, but a majority of the second-choice votes were for the seven-member body, a result that was all-but-assured when alternative voting was decided upon: those favoring a five-member body made the next largest body its second choice, of course.
John McRae, who served Iola as mayor 12 years from 1995 to 2007, spoke for those who favored the five-member commission. He argued from his long experience that a smaller commission would be more able to make quick decisions and cited the effectiveness of Iola’s three-member commission over the decades as proof.
McRae also observed that the 14-member advisory group had not been able to reach a consensus after many hour-long Monday meetings and suggested that a similar paralysis could be ex-pected in any large governing body.
McRae strongly favor-ed at-large voting for all five positions. Iola is, he pointed out, a small, compact city with common problems from north to south, east to west. Voting by wards would reduce by 300 percent the choice voters had among candidates because those residents in one ward could only run there. In many election years, two or more of the most qualified potential candidates may live in the same ward.

THE FACT IS that serving on the city’s governing body is a demanding job. It takes a lot of time to do it well. To be qualified to help run our community’s multi-million dollar business, candidates should have business and life experience which equip them to understand Iola’s utility businesses and help manage its large and di-verse work force. Those with experience in industry can help with the job creation the community always needs.
Serving on Iola’s city government is almost like taking on a part-time job in addition to one’s regular work.
If the suggestion that the commission hold its meetings in the evenings rather than during the day is followed, many more Iolans — those who have day-time jobs, a description that covers most adults under retirement age — will be able to serve, so the potential pool of candidates will grow substantially.
Even so, those most qualified to serve are also those most aware of the demands that the office makes. As a result, the most effective of Iola’s commissioners and mayors in years past only ran for office reluctantly after being persuaded by friends and others interested in Iola’s success to make the personal sacrifice re-quired.
These are the reasons why Iola should stick with a smaller commission chosen from its entire population. On Tuesday, vote for a four-member commission and a mayor, all elected at large. Iola will have a better future if that choice is made.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.

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