Editorial: Ripon should elect at-large aldermen

RIPON CITY CLERK Anne Schommer swears in Alds. Annette Klein and Dennis Miller in 2012. Both defeated challengers to win their seats. But that’s the exception. Between them is Ald. Al Schraeder, who has run unopposed for all of his past four elections. Ian Stepleton photo

If you ran for the Ripon Common Council during one of the past 14 elections — from 1990 to 2016 — you had a 78-percent chance of being unopposed.

If you’re a candidate, those are great odds.

If you’re a voter, you’ve been shortchanged.

More competition for city slots means greater accountability for performance, heightened sensitivity to residents’ concerns and more reverence for the privileged position of power.

An average of 1.28 of the four aldermanic positions open each election have been contested for the past 27 years. ...

Lethargy about serving the public in elected positions is not unique to Ripon.

A survey by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance found that of 500 municipalities polled, 52 percent averaged between zero to one candidate per seat over the past three years, while only 4 percent reported an average of two or more candidates per seat.

Because more competition is desirable, Ripon’s Common Council July 24 briefly considered whether the city’s current system of electing two representatives for alternating four-year terms from each aldermanic district is preferable to an election in which every two years, four individuals from within the city would be elected on an at-large basis. ...

According to the National League of Cities, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of all municipalities use at-large elections in some way.

Ripon should do the same.

The city is too small and its issues too broad to justify district representation at the expense of fewer candidates.

... As the issues ... more often involve “all of us” than “you over there,” better to go with an at-large electoral system that, because of its ability to attract more candidates, will result in more responsive and accountable representation.

— Tim Lyke

To read the entire editorial, see the Aug. 17, 2017 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.

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