Mayor weighs in on charter changes and more

Mayor James.

By Joe Lambe

Mayor Sly James favors the current system of council districts but supports a somewhat stronger mayor system, he told the Charter Review Commission on Monday.

He also called for adding to the charter some unspecified language that links education to city government.

And he said he favors city control over the police department, which is the only one in the nation controlled by the state.

Another mayoral commission is still studying that issue and has not yet made its recommendation.

But James said crime and the schools are critical to the city and it has no control over them.

Without better schools, he said, “…we will attract young vibrant people to this town and as soon as they get pregnant, they’ll move to someplace else.”

He also said he favors the current system of 13 council members, which includes the mayor, six members elected from geographic districts and six members who live in the districts but are elected citywide.

Some minority groups are advocating a change to 12 council members all elected from within districts or nine elected in districts and three citywide.

They say that will increase chances of minority representation and reduce the size of districts, giving poor candidates a better chance.

But James said, “I just have a problem with dividing us up more when we’re already divided.”

If the commissioners do want to change the council districts, he said, recommend the 13 in-district option.

Then members would have to work to get a clean majority vote, he said, whereas a 9-3 council would lend itself to mischief like vote blocks for one area against another, such as the south against the north.

“Nine-three scares the heck out of me,” he said, “twelve-0 not really happy about it but it can be done.”

He also said he was offended by comments some change advocates had made about uneducated white women beating African-Americans in citywide races.

The allegation that a white woman with a high school diploma and job is somehow less fit to serve than an African-American with a Harvard degree amounts to the same “racial nonsense that divides this city time and time again,” he said.

He wants a stronger mayor form of government, but only to the extent that he alone would hire and fire the city manager.

He rejected a system in which the mayor would be an administrator separate from the city council, like the U.S. president and congress.

“I’m not saying I should be made king,” he said. “I would be happy for us to take a step toward a more aggressive system.”

It would be a relief for the city manager if he had only the mayor to answer to instead of all 13 council members, James said.

And a mayor, who gets blamed for much not in his or her power, would be able to promote a unified vision that the manager could implement, James said.

Asked about damage that could be done by a bad mayor with more power, James replied, “fear of mistakes is a bad reason not to progress.”

Under that scenario, he said, Germany would have no leader and every kid would be grounded for life.

He agreed that much depends on the quality of the candidates, but said a stronger mayor might attract better candidates.

“Regardless of how you address that issue and the council issue,” he said, “this city only moves forward when the mayor, the city council and the city manager are working together.”

Commission members, who have been divided on those two critical issues, said they may vote on them next week. James asked them, “on those you do as much as you can to speak with as solid of voice as you can.”

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