JONESBORO — After spirited debate, a Jonesboro City Council committee voted to move a proposed change in election procedures to the full council. The nominating and rules committee’s decision will go to the full council Aug. 4.
Under the proposal, half the council’s 12 members would be elected citywide and half within their wards. All are elected citywide and serve four-year terms under the current arrangement. However, each council member represents the ward in which they live.
If the full council approves, voters would decide whether Position 1 council members in each of the city’s six wards would be “elected solely by the citizens of the ward they represent.”
Council member L.J. Bryant, who holds Position 1 in Ward 5, is sponsoring the proposed change, which he said he campaigned on when he was first elected to fill an unexpired term in 2018.
He argues moving toward ward-based voting would bring those council members closer to the people they represent.
“I use the example sometimes, we’ve got four state representatives from Jonesboro and they don’t run citywide or the quorum court doesn’t run countywide,” Bryant told The Sun following the meeting.
Council member Bobby Long cast the lone no vote, proposing an amendment to elect all 12 by ward.
“Because you’d have one position that would be ward only and some of the main arguments were it would be easier for citizens to become involved, it would allow for closer ties to your councilman,” Long said. “So if those arguments hold true for Position 1, it should also hold true for Position 2.”
Local resident Patti Lack, who often speaks at council meetings, said electing some council members by ward would make it affordable for more people to run for the positions.
But council members Joe Hafner, Mitch Johnson and John Street sided with Bryant, saying the council members should consider what’s best for the city as a whole and not just the part of the city they represent.
“I feel like having one that is strictly by ward and one that is citywide will be a good check and balance,” Hafner said. Johnson agreed.
“We all field a lot of calls outside our wards and we’re still going to serve those citizens outside our ward regardless of who they call,” Johnson said.
Street said the issue has been raised several times in his almost 18 years on the council and acknowledged there are pros and cons on both sides. However, he said complete ward voting could set up turf wars or worse.
“When someone calls me, I don’t ask what ward they live in, I say, ‘Do you live in the city of Jonesboro,” Street said. “And if they say, ‘Yes,’ then I say, then I’m your councilman, how can I help?”
Street said all council members work together for the best interest of the whole city.
If the full council approves, voters will decide the issue Nov. 3.