Ward system has pros, cons for De Soto
Last week, the De Soto City Council started the process of changing the city from a third-class to second-class city. The move was a statutory requirement mandated by the state for cities that exceed 5,000 in population.
For the most part, it's a ho hum occurrence. It does mark a milestone in the city's history, but the different class distinction brings few changes in municipal statutory procedures in how City Hall functions. There is one exception, and that is how city council members are elected. Unless the council opts out to the requirement.
Arguments could be made for both systems. The current system of all at-large seats allows voters to pick the best and brightest candidates regardless of where the live. In recent history, the at-large races for the two or three available seats have been vigorously contested, ensuring full debate of the issues and offering various visions of the future.
The argument for a ward system is that it would assure all the city's neighborhoods and their different perspectives were represented on the council. As Councilwoman Mitra Templin noted last week, that has not always been the case. From May 2003 to May 2005, there was no one on the council who lived in those sections of the city served by the city fire department or hooked to the sewer department. At that time, the council was forced by the state to start planning a new wastewater plant, which included the crucial questions of how it would be paid for.
Two arguments made last week against the ward system is that there would be a lack of candidates or lack of quality candidates. The second argument is patronizing and undemocratic. It's up to voters to decide if candidates are qualified. It's true that the ward system would increase the odds of uncontested races and the chances of poor candidates winning election, but it also could increase interest and recruit candidates. It is our democratic tradition that leaders rise from among us.
The council seems intent to charter out of the ward system. We have no problem with that but think De Soto residents should express their opinions before the council again discusses the issue Aug. 16.
Council members also agreed at some point, the city would have to transition to the ward system. In a city with De Soto's sharp distinctions in neighborhoods, we would think that should come sooner than later.