In the last two Sheridan City Council meetings, the elected officials have discussed eliminating the city’s wards in favor of an at-large system. This topic deserves much greater discussion and public involvement than two readings at Council, which is why Councilor Alex Lee tabled the motion until the group’s next meeting.
This change would allow anyone within the city to run for Council and represent the city as a whole. Representatives would no longer focus on advocating for their ward alone, but rather the entire city.
Many smaller communities operate in this manner. For example, Dayton’s and Ranchester’s town councils are all operated as at-large positions. Yet larger communities such as Laramie, Casper, Gillette, Cheyenne, Rock Springs and Cody all operate with wards.
There is a value to having wards. Wards ensure all areas of the community are represented on the Council.
The interests of those residents living in the North Main neighborhoods are far different from those living in the Woodland Park or Mountain Shadows areas. Priorities for projects get shifted as you move around the city, so it makes sense to have all of those interests represented.
In addition, different areas of any city, including our own, have different income levels. It is not fair for somebody in the poorest neighborhood seeking to be elected to run against somebody in the wealthiest neighborhood in at-large elections. The amount of money that can be spent can make or break one’s campaign for elected office.
Yet in an era when fewer people seem willing to step up and serve the community in this way, opening the elections also has its appeal. Perhaps more people would run if they weren’t only facing off against their neighbor three houses down the street. Perhaps some areas of the community have several people who want to run, but three are eliminated in the primaries. At-large elections would allow those people a better shot at winning a seat in Council chambers.
Sheridan Mayor Dave Kinskey expressed interest in moving toward at-large elections because, he said, he wasn’t sure the city’s current wards would meet constitutional muster. To ensure they do, he added, the city would need to pay around $10,000 to have a study completed. With the last several years of tight budgets, the mayor expressed hesitation at spending that kind of money on such a project.
A cornerstone in the foundation of our country is a government for and by the people and the phrase, “one person, one vote,” is repeated often when discussing voting districts.
The city hosts multiple public meetings regarding upcoming capital projects to gather input from residents prior to construction. An issue that will change the way our city government is chosen deserves similar consideration.