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Posted on: November 5, 2019

Commission approves ballot question to directly elect mayor

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By a vote of 7-2 tonight, the City Commission approved language that would allow registered voters in Battle Creek to weigh in on direct election of the mayor as a separate office.

Vice Mayor Sherry Sofia and Commissioner Jim Lance voted no on the proposal. Mayor Mark Behnke and Commissioners Susan Baldwin, Kaytee Faris, Kate Flores, Lynn Ward Gray, John Griffin, and Chris Simmons voted yes.

The question would ask voters if the city should amend its city charter so that the mayor is elected as a separate, at-large, office. In that case, the city would continue to elect five ward commissioners, and would elect three at-large commissioners, for a total remaining at nine commissioners. A person could not be a candidate for both mayor and a city commissioner.

The next steps are that the city clerk will send the language to the Michigan governor’s office for approval. If approved by the state, the question will appear on the March 10, 2020 primary election ballot. If Battle Creek voters approve the proposal, it would take effect for the November 2020 general election.

The direct election of the mayor was an issue discussed by the Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee, appointed by the commission last year to discuss and make recommendations related to potentially amending the city charter. A majority of the committee supported a recommendation that the commission consider the direct election of both the mayor and vice mayor.

Under tonight’s approved resolution, the vice mayor still would be chosen by a vote of commissioners, at the organizational meeting after the election.

The city commission first considered this topic on Sept. 17. Because one commissioner was absent, they agreed to wait for a date when the full commission could vote, no later than Oct. 15. On Oct. 15, the resolution failed 5-4; a 6-3 vote is required to pass it. After considering constituent feedback on the issue, Commissioner Lynn Ward Gray, who voted no on Oct. 15, requested that the commission consider the resolution again. As required by city ordinance, two other commissioners supported that request (Commissioners Kaytee Faris and Kate Flores), prompting tonight’s special meeting.

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