Ballot question: Should the mayor’s term be extended?

WESTFIELD—This Tuesday, residents will be asked to not just vote for which candidates they want in office, but also whether they feel that the Westfield mayor’s term should be extended to four years.

The non-binding question is on this year’s ballot, and was initially proposed by Ward Two Councilor Ralph Figy. The mayor’s term is currently two years, like city council, and while the question will not change the length of term, it would give lawmakers in the city an understanding of what residents want.

“Basically, what it is is just a gage to figure out where the public stands,” Figy said of the non-binding question. “An information-seeking device.”

The question, according to City Clerk Karen Fanion, is phrased, “Shall the city of Westfield extend the term of mayor from two years to four years?”

Figy said that the question originally began when it was looked into about extending both city council and mayor terms. The Legislative and Ordinance Committee, which Figy is chairperson of, held several meetings on the matter, according to Figy, which he said were well-attended by the public.

“The general discussion was that people didn’t see a problem with mayor being a four-year term but had a problem with city council having four-year terms,” Figy said.

So, Figy said that they requested assistance from the city’s Law Department, and that department drafted a referendum that was placed on the ballot.

Figy spoke about his views on the potential of extending the mayor’s term, including during the unopposed candidate forum held by the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce and The Westfield News on Wednesday, Nov. 1.

“I feel a four-year term is what’s needed. In two years, the first year you get your foot wet, figure out who is who, then the second year you are running for reelection,” Figy said.

“Four years would give a person the chance to give their ideas and projects a chance to come to fruition,” he said.

Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan, during that same forum, chose not to give an opinion on the question because he did not want to influence voters.

“I have my opinions, my own opinions,” he said during the forum. “As a sitting mayor I don’t think my opinion should impact how you vote.”

According to At-Large Councilor Dan Allie however, the possibility of a four-year term for mayor does not have sound reasoning.

“No good reason has ever been given to make the change,” he said.

Allie noted that he was against the motion initially, which had previously been in the Legislative and Ordinance Committee and had the City Council’s terms up for extension as well.

“I wasn’t in favor because one reason local offices are done every two years is you’re elected officials are always mindful of the people because they’re facing election this year or next year,” he said.

Allie said that in addition, if the term is extended it will not save money because elections will still occur every other year. Also, Allie noted that it could impact voter turnout.

“It sets up a weird cycle for elections, which will definitely affect turnout,” he said, adding that this could in turn affect city council.

Allie also said that due to the time that can elapse between elections, others ability to run could become hampered.

“A lot can happen in a life in four years and people have a short memory,” he said.

 According to Allie, the term length was established to act as a check of the elected officials and giving power to the people.

“It was done so elected officials should always be mindful of the people. That’s the check right there,” he said.

“If it’s not broke, why are they trying to fix it,” Allie said. 

According to Figy, if the question shows that residents want the mayoral term to be extended, then what could happen next is that the City Council could move to change the city’s Charter.

“The Charter has to go through the state legislature,” Figy said.

“We’d have to prepare a home rule petition to send to the state legislature to approve,” he added.

Figy said that if a change were to occur, it could take two years or longer for it to be done and take effect.

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