Improving the City Council

A citizen’s good idea deserves consideration

Two weeks ago (on Feb. 18) the CN&R published a letter from Michael Reilley addressing the fact that candidates for Chico City Council are coming out of the woodwork. The time might be right, he suggests, to consider changing the city charter to allow election of council members by district.

Reilley, an insurance broker, is a regular at council meetings, where he often offers his opinions. We applaud his community spirit and participation in the process. And in this case we agree with him.

His proposal is that the city be divided into six districts, with each district electing one council member. The mayor would be elected at large, presumably for a four-year term, and would vote only in case of a tie.

An advantage is that it would be easier (and cheaper) to run for the council, Reilley states. A candidate would need to campaign in only his or her district, not the whole city.

There are additional advantages. Residents would know whom to contact on issues affecting their neighborhoods. Council members would know they have the support of a majority of voters in their districts. And, we suspect, there would be greater diversity on the council.

There’s another important advantage: The mayor would be stronger. Elected by majority vote citywide, he or she would benefit from such broad support and be able to provide greater leadership on the council and for the community. The current arrangement—leadership by committee, as we have called it—is adequate for most situations, but it lacks the dynamic leadership a growing city needs.

The CN&R has been banging this drum for several years, and we’ve heard from many residents—and some council members—who agree that changing to district elections is worth researching and considering. Other cities have done it. Why not find out how it’s worked for them?