|
Middletown Transcript
  • Townsend council debates merits of popularly-elected mayor

  • Should Townsend voters be allowed to directly elect their own mayor?
    It’s a question that might soon get a definitive answer after years of being bandied about among the town’s 2,000 residents.
    • email print
      Comment
  • »  RELATED CONTENT
  • Should Townsend voters be allowed to directly elect their own mayor?
    It’s a question that might soon get a definitive answer after years of being bandied about among the town’s 2,000 residents.
    Townsend voters currently elect five councilmembers, with three up for election in odd numbered years and two in even numbered years.
    Following each election, the new council members then chose a mayor from among their ranks to serve a one-term term, under rules set out in the town’s charter.
    However, former mayor and current councilman Joel Esler says that’s one of the many things he would like to see changed when town council submits a proposed charter overhaul to the Delaware General Assembly early next year.
    “My belief is that this country is a democracy, and it’s a fundamental right for people to elect their government,” Esler said during last week’s meeting of the charter review committee, which is made up of the sitting council members. “It’s one of the major things that really prompted this charter change from the beginning [and] it’s something people ask me about constantly.”
    Yet some Esler’s fellow town council members say they’re concerned that adding the mayor’s seat to the ballot could do more harm than good.
    “Down the road it might be a good thing, but right now we can barely find enough candidates to fill our council seats,” first-year Councilwoman Lorraine Gorman said. “If we also have to fill the mayor’s slot, it’s going to take away from the pool of candidates interested in running for the other seats.”
    The 2011 election was cancelled after then-mayor John Hanlin dropped out of a four-way race for three open seats, leaving the three remaining candidates to automatically assume office.
    But when Gorman was elected in May, she and four other candidates ran for three open seats. Three candidates ran for two open seats in 2012, four candidates ran for two seats in 2010 and seven candidates vied for three open seats in 2009.
    Councilman John Ness, who was first elected in 2009, said he believes the town’s voter turnout numbers are too low for the town to consider switching to a popularly-elected mayor. No more than 300 residents have registered as active voters in any of the past five elections, while fewer than 200 cast ballots in any of those contests.
    “If more people start coming out, maybe it’s something we could consider in the future,” he said. “But I say don’t try to fix something that’s not broken.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Council opted to leave the question open last week. A decision is expected before a final draft of the town’s first proposed charter revisions since 1979 are sent to the state legislature in January.
    Council, meanwhile, has agreed on other changes to the charter that would affect the ability of residents to seek and hold office.
    Under the current proposal, the new charter would bar residents from seeking a town council seat if they have an “unsettled debt” with the town. However, the definition of that term has not been decided.
    The proposal also would add a code of ethics and allow sitting council members to be removed from office if convicted of a felony or found guilty of malfeasance.
    Town council members also would be required to forfeit their seat after missing three consecutive monthly meetings.
    Another major change currently proposed to the charter would void a property owner’s claim on a parcel 60 days after it is sold at a sheriff’s auction. The current charter allows owners a year to settle their debt with the town and reclaim the property following a sheriff’s sale.

        calendar