Charter review group sets public forum

The Keizer Charter Review Committee set a public forum on potential revisions to the Keizer city charter for Tuesday, April 21. 

During the forum, the committee will ask for input on four questions the group did not want to change in the charter without input from the public. What the precise questions are will be determined in the coming weeks as members of the committee neighborhood organizations with presentations. 

By going out and asking residents now, the charter review group is hoping to narrow down the number of questions it has during the public forum during the intervening month.

One of the largest-looming questions is whether councilors should continue to be elected “at large” or selected by specific wards or districts. 

Some of considerations for the at-large option found in a report by the National League of Cities, 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- or ward- 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. 

If the city continues to use at-large voting, the question becomes whether to implement a different voting method. For example, instead of selecting single candidates, ranked-choice voting might be an alternative. In the latter system, voters would rank candidates in order of preference with the top picks filling the vacancies. Proponents of ranked-choice voting say it more accurately reflects the full spectrum of voters. 

A third question is whether to change city councilor terms to two years rather than four years. Members of the charter review committee didn’t pick sides, but the possibility sparked enough of a conversation for them to seek out additional input. Keizer’s mayor already serves two-year terms. 

The last question is whether to change the process for replacing a vacancy on the city council. 

The current process involves the sitting councilors interviewing candidates and appointing a replacement with a vote of the council. Alternately, the council could send the matter back to voters in a special election. Salem’s city council requires a special election if the remaining term of the vacating councilor is more than a year. 

The public forum, and chance for residents to chime in on any of those questions, will be April 21 at 6 p.m. at the Keizer Civic Center.