On Nov. 2, along with selecting a Governor, a new Congressman, and our State Rep. and State Senator, Oak Ridgers will approve or reject three questions on changes to the City Charter. The full list of proposed changes has been transmitted to City Council, which will meet on Aug. 23 to formally receive them and request that the Election Commissions of both Roane and Anderson Counties place them on the November ballot.
The most substantial change to most people would be moving the city elections to November of even years (to coincide with State and Federal general elections), rather than the June of odd years pattern we’ve followed for a long time. The argument for the current method (June of odd years) is that it keeps the focus strictly on city issues; the argument for moving it to November of even years is that it would dramatically improve voter turnout — both because people tend to put forth more effort to vote in these larger elections, and because it’s not at a time when people are typically on vacation.
The second question changes the residency requirement to run for local office from six months to one year. That’s not a huge change, but a sensible one, in my opinion.
The third question is a series of relatively minor changes, including
- that Council (as a whole, not individual members) have the power to investigate “all city departments, offices, boards, commissions, committees, and agencies;”
- adds the city’s website to the required publication for all official notices (in addition to a newspaper of general circulation);
- increases the public notice requirement for appropriations amendments from five days to ten;
- outlines purchasing authority;
- adds an equal employment opportunity clause;
- states that City Council shall establish an ethics policy consistent with State law.
Many, many other potential changes were discussed, argued, and considered, but in the end, these are what were approved by the full Commission. On the November ballot, questions longer than 300 words (namely, Question 3) are likely to be summarized, so it’s worthwhile for all residents to read the whole 3-page document and start thinking about the decision.
The big one is the first question, as that represents the biggest change for Oak Ridge. For a long time, I’ve been among those who feel that the standalone June elections give us a better opportunity to showcase city issues and candidates. Over the past couple of years though, I’ve put a lot of thought into the prospect of combining with a November election, and I’m persuaded that the higher voter turnout is probably worth the additional competition for voters’ attention.
And, it saves a few dollars.
Study up, Oak Ridge. This is your town, and your decision to make.