Friday, February 17, 2012

Normalizing elections would be good for Bellevue

Bellevue is special. But part of its special status as Idaho's only remaining charter city is driving its citizens crazy.

The city's mayor and six City Council members serve terms of just two years under the city's charter. Although the terms are staggered, which minimizes disruption to the council, the city must hold an election every year.

This looks great in theory to those who like the idea of frequent political housecleaning that gives voters ample opportunities to "throw the bums out."

But in practice, annual elections have left Bellevue voters with a chronic case of fatigue. It's led to tepid voter interest and low voter turnout in a community where the major issue has been the same for decades: too little money. Bellevue residents have consumed less pizza than any other city in the Wood River Valley in decades of Pizza and Politics forums sponsored by this newspaper. Yet, the city of just 2,287 people is forced to spend money to hold annual elections when less frequent elections would garner more interest.

Two-year terms don't give new council members enough time to learn, exercise and hone their craft before they have to run for election again. Two years is also too little time for voters to assess a council member's competence and effectiveness.

The present City Council voted unanimously last month to back a bill now before the Legislature that would lengthen the term of office to four years, as it is in every other city in the state.

The change would be the second for Bellevue-style elections. The first occurred in 2006 when the Legislature changed the city's designated date for elections from April to November. The change began to bring Bellevue into the mainstream.

Fall is the election season everywhere in the United States. Citizens know it's the time of year when they must exercise the duty to become informed about issues and candidates. The massing of candidates and issues to be decided on a single date, the first Tuesday of November, creates buzz about elections in a way that a freestanding April election never could.

Bringing Bellevue into the mainstream by allowing elected officials to serve four years will not damage its special status as Idaho's only remaining charter city. It will not make it any less unique or give existing office holders any special privileges. It will not change the fact that small communities like Bellevue are run by the good people who show up willing to serve with the thanks of their fellow citizens as their primary compensation.

The Legislature should waste no time in approving House Bill 505 to make the change. It's smart. It's frugal. It's good government with voters in mind.

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