So you’ve decided to try your hand at serving your community by running for election to the Bartow City Commission.
Great idea. Win or lose, we commend those who are willing to seek elective office. It represents a major commitment of time and energy, both to run, and if elected, to serve.
But if this is the year you decided to test the political waters, there’s a problem:
The odds are two-to-one against your even being able to get your name on the ballot.
That is because Bartow has three election districts — totally unneeded, in our opinion — with only two “at large” seats open to anyone in the city who is willing to serve.
In a county or statewide election, it makes sense to ensure that every region is represented, and that there is a balance of rural and urban communities, and of agricultural, tourism, and industrial interests.
We find no such need for dividing a community of 15,000-plus residents into three political wards.
Such a system in a relatively small community is a solution looking for a problem.
We are glad that all the city’s voters are eligible to vote for candidates for all five seats. This means that all five city commissioners must answer to voters in all parts of the city, not just to those who live within a few blocks.
Though it may not be politically correct to point it out, such districting often is created to ensure that minorities are elected to a public body.
Bartow had minority representation on its city commission years before this district system was established, and it still does.
In fact, when the three districts were established, one was primarily minority and two were primarily white.
Voters responded by electing a black candidate from one of the two supposedly white districts, as well as from the “designated” minority district.
In politics, as in life, perception counts more than reality, and if there is a perception that one minority district is needed, we have no objection.
But having three districts serves little purpose, and creates a situation where two-thirds of the citizens are ineligible to seek office every third year.
In the other two years in the city’s three-year election cycle, only one of the two seats on the ballot is open to any candidate. The other is reserved for a resident of a specific district.
This limits participation in the elective process, exactly the opposite of what should be the objective in a democratic society.
We believe it is time for the city to open this subject for discussion.
And while we are at it, we suggest the city consider going to two-year terms and setting term limits of eight years, the same as in the Florida House of Representatives.
We believe it is time for a comprehensive reexamination of the elective process for the Bartow City Commission.