Should Nicholasville switch from a commission form of government to a mayor-council-ward form of government? Our answer is ‘No.’
In looking at the arguments presented, this newspaper has to say that the reasons the Nicholasville Council Petition Committee (NCPC) gave are, in a word, weak.
The proposed change is based on two primary reasons: Nicholasville is the only third-class city in Kentucky that operates with a commission form of government — that is true.
But a similar argument can be made that there are only two third-class cities — Flatwoods, population 7,423, is broken up into six wards and Somerset, population 11,196, is divided up into 12 wards — that operate under a mayor-council-ward form of government. And according to 2010 census data, if you add those cities populations up, they still do not equal Nicholasville’s 28,015. In fact, we feel the argument made by Perry Barnes, chairperson for the NCPC, in the Oct. 25 Journal was sketchy because it lacked substance and much of it focused on personal funds of those who have opposed the movement.
Secondly, the NCPC argues that a mayor-council-ward form of government would provide better representation for city residents because once the city is divided up into wards, residents would have a single council member to contact to voice their concerns. Right now, regardless of the neighborhood, each resident of the city has four city-commission members whom they can contact to voice concerns.
In a mayor-council-ward form, the mayor does not vote unless it is for a tie-breaking purpose. Under this system, he or she can simply dodge and skirt the issues and pass blame to the council because he or she did not vote on issues. In a commission form, the mayor’s cards are on the table.
Another thing of note: According to KRS 83A.100, only the legislative body can create a ward system. There is currently a lawsuit in Jessamine Circuit Court challenging the public question on the ballot seeking a mayor-council-ward form of government. If the measure passes, it would be up to the circuit judge to decide the validity of the measure.
Ultimately, this newspaper feels a switch to a mayor-council-ward form of government would be taking a step backward. Sure, up until the mid-1970s, the city operated under a council-ward form of government. But in 1970, Nicholasville’s population was 5,829, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Much has changed, and according to the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC), Nicholasville’s population is expected to exceed 35,400 by 2020.
Will a switch mean bigger government? According to Kentucky law, that answer is yes. A third-class city operating under a council system is required to have at least six council members, and given the size of Nicholasville, a 12-member council is within the scope of reason. Right now, each city commissioner makes $20,605.20, and we’re guessing that if the voters elect to go to a council form, those extra council members aren’t going to work for free.
If a switch of form of government is something the residents of Nicholasville want, then perhaps a group should explore the possibility of a switch to a city-manager form of government.
According to the KLC, this plan is similar to a city-commission plan in that it provides for a mayor and four commissioners who together make up the board of commissioners. The distinction, however, is that significant administrative powers are vested in the city manager. The city manager is the chief executive/administrative officer of the city.
Nicholasville is growing, and a city-manager plan merits some looking into.