Aberdeen should go back to two-year terms and annual elections [Editorial]


The time has come, as it does as spring approaches, for people considering whether to run for office in Havre de Grace to decide to fish or cut bait.

To date, a few candidates, including the incumbent mayor, have expressed interest in facing the voters again, which is a healthy thing from a civic perspective.

In a representative democracy elections can never be held too frequently. People in elected office are supposed to be acting on behalf of the electorate and communicating with the general public, so those who cast ballots know the motivations behind particular public policy actions.

In Havre de Grace, the voters get to tell those in city office what they're thinking every year. City officeholders are elected to two year terms, and the six council members and mayor have staggered terms to allow the voters to have a say every year.

This was also the case in Aberdeen, until a few years ago. The city's elections were in May, at the same time of the elections in Havre de Grace, and terms in office were for two years, also staggered to give the voters a say every spring. Then it came to pass that the city election was moved to November, to coincide with national elections, but this didn't work because municipal elections in Aberdeen are non-partisan, and national elections are partisan. Oops.

Eventually, those already in office figured it would be better to have four years terms – citing a need for continuity, whatever that may be, but really so they didn't have to deal with running for office every two years. Then it was suggested that by holding one election every four years for everyone, instead of an election every two years with the terms in office staggered, a few thousand dollars would be saved.

Today, voters in Aberdeen have one opportunity every four years to decide who will be stewards of the city government. All in all, however, those changes in Aberdeen amounted to a reduction in democracy for the city's citizens.

Havre de Grace continues to hold its elections every year. Budgets are approved, police protection is provided, garbage is picked up and water comes out of spigots. And, by the way, if an elected official doesn't deliver as had been expected, the voters are able to make a change relatively quickly, as has often happened.

In Aberdeen, public safety, sanitation and water also continue to be provided by the government. Still, we ask the question: Is the public best served by not having the opportunity to give a thumbs up or down other than once every four years? Or, perhaps we should ask a question a little easier to answer: Have government services have improved dramatically in Aberdeen under the new regime? It's pretty clear they have not.

If two-year terms are good enough for the U.S. House of Representatives, the branch of federal government where all spending bills must originate, it should be good enough for Aberdeen, not to mention plenty of other small communities. Aberdeen should strongly consider switching back to having more frequent elections.

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