Councillors eye longer terms, at-large vacancy rule change

City Council President Andrea Campbell is the latest to push a set of home rule petitions that would change the council’s elections process by creating longer terms and creating a vacancy protocol that would prevent another fifth-place finisher from being automatically appointed to office as Althea Garrison was in January.

One petition would increase the length of city council terms from two years to four years.

“This is something we heard quite a bit about when we were campaigning,” Campbell said at the Feb. 6 council meeting. “Folks talking about, ‘Why is the council every two years and the mayor’s office every four years? How do you get anything done? How do you plan if it’s only for two years?’”

Said Campbell: “This isn’t just about increasing our power; it’s really about making sure that we have the time to accomplish the goals that we commit to as candidates and making sure that we have the ability to plan and to get things done.”

Elections every two years are expensive and take councillors away from their legislative duties, Campbell added, citing the $800,000 it costs to run a municipal election with only the council on the ballot and historically low turnout. Lining the council elections up with mayoral ones would encourage more civic participation in every council race, she said.

Another proposal would prohibit candidates for running in two municipal elections at the same time— mayor and council for instance, as Campbell’s District 4 predecessor, Charles Yancey, attempted in 2013.

Garrison, who came into office after Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley went to Washington, rose in objection to a proposed change that would require a special election in the event of an at-large vacancy, which is already required of any district seat. Current rules state that the fifth-place at-large finisher serves out the remainder of a departing at-large councillor’s term.

Garrison cited the expense of holding a special election and said it would be unfair to the fifth-place candidate when “the person has already went through the election cycle.”

Campbell responded, saying,“This is not to call out my new council colleague Garrison. This has nothing to do with Councillor Garrison. Right now, if you’re a district councillor, and I were to say vacate my seat, you have to have a special election.”

The city council will consider the proposals in hearings before voting to send them to the mayor’s desk. Home Rule petitions then go to the Legislature for consideration, where prior attempts have stalled out.