Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin would like to see the City Council stagger its elections rather than everyone be up for election at the same time. But several council members question that idea.
Currently, the mayor and seven council members all run for election the same year for four-year terms. Tumlin’s proposal is to have the mayor and three council seats — Wards 2, 3 and 4 — serve two years after next year’s election, and subsequently serve four-year terms again, creating an alternating election schedule.
Tumlin said the measure is about giving voters more opportunities for input, and it’s in line with many other cities and counties in the area.
“Its a good way to keep citizens engaged, instead of waiting every four years,” he said.
Cobb County and four of its six cities, Acworth, Austell, Kennesaw and Powder Springs, currently elect their commissioners and council members on a staggered election cycle.
The proposal was brought to council members at a committee meeting this week, but Tumlin wasn’t present and there was no clear consensus among the council on whether to move forward with the idea, council members told the MDJ.
The council did agree to wait until the mayor could weigh in, so they’ll discuss it next week when they meet for a work session Thursday.
The council members who would serve a one-time shorter term, if the measure passes and if they are re-elected, are Grif Chalfant, Johnny Walker and Andy Morris of Wards 2, 3 and 4, respectively.
Walker said he supports the mayor’s idea, and told him so before it was brought up at the committee meeting.
“(For) one thing, it would make it to where you would never have a brand-new council. You’d always have someone on the council with a little experience, and it would also give the citizens more opportunities to vote,” he said. “I think it would be a good thing for the city.”
Chalfant agreed with Walker.
“I’m all for it. I can’t understand really why anybody would be against it,” Chalfant said.
Morris said he didn’t have a strong opinion one way or the other on changing the election cycle, but he preferred to hear from the mayor before saying more publicly.
“I think we need to wait until the mayor gets back, discuss it and see his thoughts on it,” he said.
The other four council members, Cheryl Richardson, Reggie Copeland, Michelle Cooper Kelly and Joseph Goldstein, expressed opposition to the proposal.
Copeland and Kelly argued at the meeting that the current system had been working and an alternating election cycle was unnecessary.
“I just feel like we’ve had mayor and council since 1877. That’s 142 years, where people were all up for election in the same year,” Copeland said. “If it’s not broken, why fix it?”
Kelly, the mayor pro tem, later said holding elections every two years would be “disruptive at best.”
As to the possibility of a brand-new mayor and council all starting at the same time: “If our voters decide to vote us all out, then we probably need to go,” she said.
“I believe that having a Council without staggered terms allows the group to develop and implement a vision for the City for 4 years, allowing us to be more effective public servants,” Goldstein said in an email.
Richardson wanted to know more about the mayor’s reasoning behind the proposal. She questioned why the mayor specifically suggested his own office and wards 2, 3, and 4, and said that the seven-member council has never started with all-new members in its history. If the proposal is worth pursuing, she said, it should go to the voters via a referendum.
“We’re making a proposal that will cost the city money, that’s going to cost us in more elections, to fix what I perceive as a nonexistent problem,” she said.
Four years ago, the City Council put the question of term limits before voters in a non-binding referendum, a question that received 80% support. Following that outcome, council members adopted limits of three four-year terms, or a total of 12 years, starting with terms that began in 2018. Though some council members have served longer than that, they all will be eligible for two more terms when the current terms expire at the end of 2021.
The mayor and council are scheduled to discuss the proposal further at their next work session, which is 5:15 p.m. next Thursday at city hall, 205 Lawrence Street in Marietta. For more information, visit www.mariettaga.gov.