CENTRAL — The City Council has approved an ordinance to expand the council from five at-large members to five members from single-member districts with two additional “at-large” members who could live anywhere in the city.
Proposed by Councilman Wayne Messina, the seven-member council ordinance came from a series of six meetings earlier this year involving a seven-person advisory committee Messina chaired.
“This alignment better serves the needs of the community,” Messina said during Tuesday’s meeting. “With 27,000 people, you really need more than five (council members).”
City Councilman Tony LoBue agreed and said a five-member council is too small for a city with Central’s population.
“Giving citizens more of a voice is better government, not bigger government,” he said.
Eight residents spoke up in favor of the proposed ordinance, arguing that increasing the number of council members does not mean that government is expanding.
“We need representation for the people out there in the outer areas (of Central),” Gil Matherne said.
More than 20 Central residents commented against the proposal with many people talking about the concern of expanding government.
“This is where big government gets started. We don’t need big government,” said Paul Burns.
Other concerns about the proposed ordinance included the following: there has not been enough public comment; the current council setup is working; and residents should be allowed to vote on the ordinance.
Council members Louis DeJohn and Aaron Moak proposed a series of amendments to the ordinance since both were opposed to expanding the number of council members.
First, DeJohn proposed an amendment to the ordinance to create five divisions that would separate the city into areas and one at-large council member would be assigned to each division after the election.
This amendment would allow one go-to person for each area and also allow any resident to run for a seat on the council regardless of where they live.
The amendment failed.
Then Moak proposed an amendment to the ordinance stating that before there could be an increase to seven council members, it would need to be voter approved.
However, under current law, the city would need legislation for an item to be placed on the state ballot or take a straw poll that would be non-binding, said Sheri Morris, city attorney.
Moak’s amendment failed.
Then DeJohn proposed another amendment to do a five single-member district. That amendment failed.
All amendment votes were split along the same lines as the 3-2 vote on the proposed ordinance.
Council members Ralph Washington, Messina and LoBue voted to approve the ordinance and council members DeJohn and Moak voted against it.
Mayor Shelton “Mac” Watts said he has 10 days to sign or veto the ordinance and he’s going to take some time reviewing public comments before making a decision.