September 19, 2013

In 16 years of covering the Carroll City Council I've never seen a cross-ward dispute.

Never. Not once.

Yet we continue to elect four council people based on where they live in Carroll - Wards 1, 2, 3 and 4. And two at-large members.

Which no longer makes sense - if it ever did.

Our ward system is a relic of a time when people cloistered based on religion and ethnic heritage and social class.

Sure, we have neighborhoods in Carroll that are more upscale, and some more just-folks workaday reaches. But no one ward holds an exclusive claim to the higher-value homes - or starter-kit abodes.

Council members make decisions based on what they feel is best for the full city or their own political futures, not on ward-specific calculations.

And if a councilman were intent on sticking a raw deal - say a buzzing electric transmission line or some foul-smelling refuse facility - in a particular ward, away from his home and business, he could easily cobble together support from like-minded members of other unaffected wards. In fact, the current system makes it easier to isolate a ward for such treatment, were Machiavellian blood to start flowing in the Farner Government Building.

But that won't happen. There are too many other well-established interests at work in Carroll.

We have strong, independent local developers who know quite well, thank you, where they are planning new homes and growth. Having five people elected from the northwest part of Carroll wouldn't stall development to the southeast, turn around any plans. We aren't Chicago.

The ward system's only role is that of a spoiler.

In the current election cycle, we have six likely candidates for three council seats - three running for an at-large position, two in Ward 3 and one in Ward 1.

Why shouldn't voters be able to select their top three choices, regardless of ward? Bonus point: We'd likely have more candidates in the race as people in Ward 2 or Ward 4, where the incumbents aren't up for re-election, have less incentive to join a three-person race for one at-large seat under the current rules.

Mayor Adam Schweers hasn't brought this issue up publicly. But behind the scenes, he agrees, this ward business is so very, very 20th century.

Iowa law requires a referendum in the full city to change the ward system into one in which all members of the council are elected in an at-large capacity.

Schweers and the next council should raise the profile of this issue, and see that the public has an opportunity to move to a modern, logical system of representation.

In everyday life, our citizens, whether they peacock around town or take a humble, head-down approach, don't define themselves, separate or sort, based on the wards in which they reside.

Our elected officials shouldn't be boundaried by such silliness either.