A group called Citizens for Change is hustling to collect petitions by Wednesday to change two things about the way Hamilton City Council is elected.
One petition would create term limits for the council and the mayor, limiting them to a pair of four-year terms.
The other, intended to ensure council members come from more diverse areas of the city, would require that four council members be elected from four different wards. The other three council positions (including the mayor) could be elected from anywhere across the city. Currently, all seven council members, including the mayor, are elected citywide.
Both petitions seek to place ballot issues before voters in November.
Former Council Member Archie Johnson, the leader of the petition effort, said the efforts aren’t anything personal against the current council. Instead, the goal is to make sure the elected representatives come from more than just the city’s West Side, he said.
The term limits also aren’t aimed at the current council, but would help foster fresh leadership and a broader range of good ideas, Johnson said.
“We’ve got to have 1,082 (signatures),” said Johnson, who served on council from 2008-2015 and lives in the city’s 2nd Ward.
To ensure having enough valid signatures from registered voters, he and others are aiming to gather 1,500 signatures, he said.
The signatures are due to the Butler County Board of Elections by 4 p.m. Wednesday, Johnson said.
“What we’re trying to do is get equal representation for all citizens of Hamilton,” Johnson said. “If you look at the map right now, all council members currently reside on the West Side of Hamilton. There’s none in East Hamilton, there’s none in North Hamilton, and none in Lindenwald.”
Council member Matt Von Stein previously lived in Lindenwald, but now lives on the West Side, Johnson said.
Under the proposal, council members from two wards and one at-large position would be elected. In 2021, the other two wards and one at-large position would be chosen by voters, he said.
Here’s his argument in favor of a ward system: “If I see a pothole every day, you see it (if you live in the same part of town),” he said. “If I see tall grass every day, you see it.”
Council Member Rob Wile, on the other hand, calls the ward system “a relic of the past.”
“It was abandoned by most cities across the country which realized that it reduced competition for council seats, encouraged back room deal making, and served to further divide rather than unite, the residents of a community,” Wile added.
Wile further said: “We have seen the results of gerrymandering on legislative districts in Ohio and across the country, making many elected office contests virtually noncompetitive. We need for Hamilton’s city council to continue to be collaborative, transparent, and non partisan.”
Under the petition proposal, a commission of seven residents would meet every five years or so to reconfigure the city’s four wards based on populations. No more than four of the residents could be of the same political party, according to the petitions.
As for term limits, Johnson said: “It will continue to regenerate new blood, if you will, new ideas. If people don’t have term limits, you get the same old thing. If you do the same thing all the time, you get the same thing. It’s really to generate new ideas, and new leaders, and the whole gamut.”
“It’s not anything against the people who are in office, it’s to generate new ideas, and new leaders,” he said.