By JIMMY LAWTON
OGDENSBURG -- Ogdensburg will hold off on action until the new council takes office in January on a charter commission recommendation to modify how representatives are elected.
A presentation from the Ogdensburg Charter Commission Monday was aimed at showing the merits of district representation on city council. Currently, the city elects candidates “at large,” but the commission is lobbying to change that format to instead choose representatives from the city’s six existing election districts.
The council has been resistant to the change because of the perception that there may not be enough interest from the public to fill the seats in each district. Councilor Jennifer Stevenson said finding candidates has been difficult even with the current format.
The presentation from the charter commission descended into a lengthy back and forth with city council Monday.
Charter Commission Chairman Fred Bean and commissioner Sean McNamara presented the council and media with a report that shows Ogdensburg is one of only two cities with a population between 5,188 and 23,887 that elects all of its council members at large. McNamara said the fact that Ogdensburg is an anomaly should raise concerns for the council.
The report also shows that city council has not had a representative from district six on the council since at least 2007. McNamara told the council that members of the public who want this change have approached him and other members of the commission. He said citizens do not feel adequately represented under the current election process.
“This is what we are hearing,” he said.
McNamara said claims that city’s population was too low to use the district election system were proven wrong by the data he compiled, which he referred to as “bulletproof.”
Councilor David Price disagreed with that summation. He said the report didn’t provide enough data for the city to formulate a decision.
The report indeed shows that cities of similar populations nearly always use district representatives, but the data sourced from Wikipedia lacks details regarding the intricacies of the particular cities. It was also unclear from the document how often members of the council were appointed, rather than elected to their positions. That was a major point of contention for some councilors.
Councilor Daniel Skamperle said he had reservations about councilors being appointed rather than elected. He said that would likely turn into a political game.
Councilor Stevenson asked if surveys or polling had been done to determine how much of the population felt they were not being represented due to the current election process.
McNamara said he was hearing this at run-ins in the supermarket and in general conversations, but said no polling had been done.
Mayor Wayne Ashley said he took the idea that certain districts weren’t being represented as a “slam.” He said all city councilors answer to all residents of the city. He invited anyone with concerns to contact him so they could meet and be discussed.
McNamara said he was just reporting what he had heard.
Ashley suggested tabling the decision until the new council comes on board and possibly holding a referendum to let voters decide.
Bean said he thought that would be a solid solution.
Council is expected to revisit the issue in January.
Sean McNamara is an employee of North Country This Week.