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Long-time pols see problems with abolishing wards

October 20, 2011
BERLIN – While the Mayor and City Council want to abolish the city's four wards, a sampling of several long-time political operatives – including three former mayors shows the idea may have tough time being approved.

Dick Huot, who served as Mayor 1998-2000, said electing all the city councilors on a citywide basis may "leave some neighborhoods without representation." He could live with a two-ward system because it would protect the current balance between local area representatives and a citywide mayor. Huot worries that the new system would weaken the mayor's clout as the only representative of the entire city. "Electing everyone at large," he said "would make (them) equal to mayor." Hout says he doubts that the voters want it. "I've not talked to anyone who likes it," he said.

Robert De Planche, who was Mayor in 1998 and presently lives in Florida, said he doesn't "see an advantage of abolishing the ward system. I am trying to think of any economic advantages but have not come up with any yet, outside of eliminating some of the polling places." Possibly, he admitted that it may be warranted to encourage more candidates to run.

"The whole thing started for the wrong reasons," said David Bertrand, who served as Mayor from 2008-2010, because a redistricting plan would have displaced "a sitting city councilor." He was referring to a proposed line-change that would have put Ward 3 City Councilor Michael Rozek's home into Ward 4. Redistricting requires that all wards be generally equal in population. Ward 3 has gained population, mostly because of the addition of the state prison, and Ward 4 has lost population.

Bertrand said, he "would advocate following the letter of the law" and realign the wards to make them as equal as possible. Law dictates that political subdivision may have a variation of no more than 5 percent.

Tony Urban, who serves on the City Police Commission and has been involved in local and state government for many years, said changing the charter to eliminate the wards is "an outstanding idea and long overdue." He pointed to the city's population decline and the decline of ethnic, cultural diversity between wards.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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