Wards, mayoral duties, quorums dominate charter review meeting

City Attorney Shannon Johnson told members of the Keizer Charter Review Task Force to expect boredom as the group convened to offer guidance on revising the city charter. What happened next was anything but boring. 

In the first 90 minute meeting, members of the task force discussed the possibility of establishing wards in Keizer and having city council representatives elected from each district, how long a mayor should have to sign new ordinances and what constitutes a quorum. 

Resident Mike DeBlasi, a former candidate for city council and longtime volunteer on city advisory boards, posed the idea of separating the city into wards for the purpose of electing city council representatives. DeBlasi said a survey of city councilors during the past 25 years, using names and tax records, showed that “only two council members have been from the southeast portion of the city. I didn’t get everybody’s address but I think that speaks to why we need a district or ward system.”

DeBlasi, a member of the city’s traffic safety committee, suggested adding to the charter language requiring all modes of transportation to be treated equally when infrastructure repairs or improvements are made. 

The city council commissioned the task force to review the city charter for possible updates with an eye toward removing Section 44, a portion of the charter that marginalizes LGBTQ+ residents. Any changes would have to be put before voters. The hope is to do so sometime in 2020 when the costs will be minimized. 

On the topic of wards, the task force requested a host of additional information: a look at where all candidates for council originated in the city, the look at voter turnout in Keizer precincts and more. 

“The National League of Cities has a report on some of the pros and cons of at-large and district voting that we could use as a primer,” said Pat Fisher, a member of the task force. 

Some of considerations for at-large found in the report include: 

• An at-large system can be more impartial, rise above the limited perspective of a single district and concern themselves with the problems of the whole community.

• Vote trading between council members may be minimized in at-large bodies.

• There tend to be more candidates in at-large elections. 

For district based voting:

• District elections give all legitimate groups, especially those with a geographic base, a better chance of being represented on the city council, especially communities of color.

• District council members are more attuned to the unique problems of their constituents, such as crime levels, small lot development, trash pick-up, potholes, and recreation programs.

• District elections may improve citizen participation overall. 

There are also about 20 percent of municipalities that use a mix of the two voting systems. No decision on a recommendation was made during the meeting, but some members of task force seemed open to a much broader discussion. 

Regarding how long mayors should have to sign ordinances passed by the council, the current charter requires a signature within three days. 

Task force member Zaira Flores-Marin questioned whether that was too short a window. 

“It’s good to have a time limit so a mayor can’t get uppity and decline to sign something because they don’t agree with it,” Johnson said. 

The task force ended its first meeting with a discussion of what constitutes a quorum. The current charter states: “A majority of the incumbent members of the council shall constitute a quorum for its business, but a smaller number may meet and compel the attendance of absent members in a manner provided by ordinance.”

It never led to a crisis, but there was a month a few years ago when one councilor resigned and another stepped away for health reasons. Had the two absences overlapped, a quorum might have been as few as three members and Johnson questioned whether that was enough to represent all city residents during a major decision. 

“It’s a question of how low do you go,” said Fisher. 

Johnson said he wanted to take another run at the language, but the task force could recommend that a quorum never be smaller than a group of four councilors. 

The task force meets again at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 3.