If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
For many months, it has appeared that City of Chester voters would have the opportunity to vote on reducing the size of Chester City Council. With two council members from each of the four wards and a mayor, there are nine voting members on the dais for meetings. That is more than Chester County Council, more than the Chester County School Board and more than the councils in Rock Hill and Columbia, both of which have populations that dwarf Chester’s.
We have advocated for the size reduction (preferably to either four or six council members and a mayor) on a number of occasions for a number of reasons. Things are actually on the upswing for the City right now, with new homes being constructed and many new businesses locating inside Chester. However, we’ve seen over and over through the years that too many cooks spoil the stew. The City has been on the verge financial collapse, still has cash flow problems and has lost giant sums of taxpayer money on accounting oversights dealing with the summer feeding program and other services that stretch beyond the normal scope of local government. Important positions have been left vacant for too long and issues are often kicked down the road and never resolved.
We also think fewer seats would create more and better slates of candidates for voters to choose from. Fewer seats would also come with higher public expectations and scrutiny, both of which are good things. With the City making cuts and reductions in other areas, it also seems to make sense that there should be some cuts at the top as well.
However, the public referendum is now likely off after second reading on a final motion to approve the language of the referendum and place it on the ballot failed on a 4-4 vote. For the Council to get it back on the ballot, there would have to be two new readings in two weeks and the City doesn’t currently have a regular scheduled meeting in that timeframe.
It’s important to realize that if the second reading had passed, it would not mean that the size of the council would have reduced, it would only mean the public would have the opportunity to vote on the matter. Council members can vote in whatever direction they want on anything they want, but we think it’s disappointing that they chose not to give the public a say on a matter that has been discussed for years. Maybe they legitimately think the City needs a large, robust body to properly represent the people and run local government. Or maybe some of them knew they were potentially voting themselves out of a job.
Either way, there is another means by which Chester City Council can have its numbers thinned. The public can actually force the issue onto the ballot (though likely not for May’s election) by collecting signatures calling for a referendum. It’s obvious after years of discussion and now an 11th hour vote down, the council likely isn’t going to approve the referendum. If people think it is important and worth pursuing, they will have to make it happen.