Rutland considers electing alderman by ward

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(Host) Today, Rutland City voters have been considering a non-binding item on how they elect the city’s 11 aldermen.

The question asks voters if they want to replace city-wide elections with elections of aldermen by ward.

VPR’s Nina Keck talked to voters and politicians about the issue and filed this report.

(Keck) Steve Howard, a state representative from Rutland, led the effort to put the ward issue on today’s ballot. He calls it an issue of fairness.

(Howard) “Right now, with the at large system, 9 of the 11 aldermen live in two of the four wards on the north side of the city. . . . In my neighborhood in the southwest, we often feel like the forgotten neighborhood of Rutland. We really believe that having a guaranteed seat at the table is not only fair but would result in improvements in our corner of the city.”

(Keck) Under the proposed system, two aldermen would be elected from each of the four city wards and three aldermen would run as at large candidates.

(Sounds from polling place)

(Keck) Mary Anzalone checked in voters today. She lives on the southswest side of the city and says she likes the ward idea.

(Analone) “People in the north don’t know what’s going on in our part of town and if you get two candidates they know what’s going on in our part of town.”

(Keck) City resident Sharon Rabideau agrees.

(Rabideau) “I think that breaking it up into ward areas plus having three at large makes a lot of sense. Because the ward people will be looking out for the specific interests of the people they represent. And that’s very important. The whole city is very small so people should be interested in issues affecting the whole. But you will find people saying the race track is way down there. It’s never going to affect people on the north side – so they’re not going to care about that issue. But it’s a real issue to people living right there.”

(Coppinger) “From the offset it sounds like a good idea. But people really haven’t analyzed what it means for the city.”

(Keck) That’s Alderman Michael Coppinger.

(Coppinger) “There’s a lot of issues that will be a result of this if this goes through. All department heads are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Aldermen. And department heads could be put in the middle of that if they’re not playing favorites regarding street maintenance or other things – could be playing favorites as to whether they’re going to be appointed by a particular aldermen.”

(Keck) Alderman Bill Gillam says he’s concerned that electing by ward would give too much power to the mayor’s office.

(Gillam) “Because the mayor could use each ward as a level as a ward boss and it could build his power base and take some of the power base away from the board of aldermen now.”

(Keck) Since the item is a nonbinding ballot item, the Board of Aldermen and the state legislature would have to approve any changes to the Rutland City Charter.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

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