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Bill's Point of View: Do Away with Tammany Hall Style of Government in Gloucester City

BY BILL CLEARY

  Looking at the November election returns posted on the Camden County 6a00d8341bf7d953ef01157142a733970c-800wi and Gloucester County websites one things stands out. Gloucester City is the only community still using the Ward system in this immediate area. For several years I along with others have been urging Mayor and Council to  change Gloucester City’s out-dated form of government. 

  The present system limits the chance of finding qualified residents who have an interest in serving in City government to run for office. The Wards system makes it even more difficult, as the candidate must live in that Ward to be able to serve in our form of government. 

 Earlier this year Mayor William James appointed an Advisory Committee to study the issue and make recommendations to change it.  Besides the Mayor, the committee consisted of former Gloucester City mayor Robert Bevan, former Gloucester City mayor Walt Jost, Board of Education president Louisa Llewelyn, former Gloucester City police chief Ted Howarth, former Democrat Club president Bowie Johnson, Dale Baile, City Republican chairman Wil Levins, Jerry Murphy, Jean McLaughlin.

 The Committee submitted their findings in August and recommended the following referendum/ballot question to be put on this year’s November ballot. It reads, 

 Whereas the Mayor and Common Council of the City of Gloucester City have accepted and approved the recommendations of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee to change the method of electing the members of the City of Gloucester City’s Common Council, a ballot question is hereby put forth to the voters of Gloucester City.

Election of Gloucester City Council Members:

Shall three Council member candidates be elected by the voters from their respective wards (one Council member per ward) and three Council member candidates be elected at-large, for terms of no longer than three years, in staggered elections, beginning this year, 2010 and the first at-large election held during the next scheduled Council member election in the fall of 2012.

Asked via an Email why the question recommended by his appointed committee didn’t appear on the ballot this year Mayor James writes,  

 “After the recommendations of the Mayors Advisory Committee were received it was then to be reviewed by Mayor and Council as well as our legal advisor,  by the time this was done it was too late to put it on the ballot, we did try but were told we couldn't.  There's too many rules and regulations in these processes to even think something should be so easy to do.  

“Also you keep referring to promises made when we first ran for office, stop it unless you have proof which in this case I know you do not.  A promise can't be made to do something that requires a voter approval whether it be binding or not,  if any promise was made it was to investigate the possibilities of alternative forms of representation, which was done and the process was involved and quite educational.  Stop bashing from your living room chair.”

 Mr. Mayor, I take your word for it that you never made a specific promise to change our form of government. 

 However I believe you did allude to the change in your October 2006 article titled Why Are You Running for Mayor. Specifically you stated,

There comes a time in political arenas when change is necessary, and that time is when the interests of the party supersede the good of the people it represents. The time has come, ladies and gentlemen, to stand up to “the machine,” of a select group of people, who have controlled your lives for far too long. The time has come to “hold the high ground” and stop the decline, to “fight the good fight,” and to give Gloucester City government back to the people."

 As such I got the impression that you were promising some real changes. Which would include at some point doing away with the City’s Tammy Hall style of government. I will repeat what I said above, a community of our size does not need to limit candidates to living in a particular area in order to run for city council. . 

 As you are aware this issue has been in the limelight before. The 1990’s Charter Study Commission and in June 2009 the opposing Democratic Primary candidates submitted a petition to adopt a Council-Manager form of government to replace the current system. Small town politics and political rhetoric was the main reason neither proposal brought about any transformation in our present system of government. 

 I am disappointed in the recommendation made by this Advisory Committee. The idea of keeping three of the six council seats locked into the Ward system goes against the idea of why the change is needed. 

 Bill, I feel you are one of the best mayors this City has had in recent memory. However, I do not agree with everything you and your council have done during your time in office.  On those occasions I let my feelings known. If that is what you consider to be “bashing” then there not much I can do to change your mind.

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