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Feb 11

City proposals on primary election ballot

Posted on February 11, 2020 at 10:35 AM by Jessica VanderKolk

It is a big year in 2020 for elections -- voters in the City of Battle Creek will choose the president, many state positions, county positions and issues, city commissioners, and two city proposals.

Neighbors may remember that, in 2018 the City Commission appointed a Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee to discuss our city charter, and consider making recommendations for changes, such as the mayor is selected, and the language used in the city charter.

Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee logo 2018

Commissioners took this action because, in 2014, that commission was deadlocked for nearly four hours in an attempt to choose a mayor. Currently, commissioners vote among themselves to choose the mayor and vice mayor each year at the November organizational meeting.

The BRAC's work, which included their own meetings, discussions with neighbors, analysis of information provided by the city attorney, and analysis of feedback provided by over 1,300 neighbors via a survey. As a result, Battle Creek registered voters will see two related proposals on the March 10 primary election ballot.

The first will ask voters if we should remove all gendered language from the city charter -- meaning we will use pronouns like "they" and "them" instead of "he" and "him." The commission believes this is the right thing to do in this modern and accepting time, to show better inclusivity in our language.

The second proposal will ask voters if they want to elect the mayor as a separate office. Selection of the vice mayor would remain at the commission's organizational meeting.

If voters approve the direct-elect mayor proposal on March 10, voters in the Nov. 3 general election will elect five ward and three at-large commissioners, plus one mayor. This keeps our total at nine commissioners. 

Data from the city attorney
  • In the 49 Michigan cities with a population between 15,000 and 100,000, only seven of those cities' mayors are selected by the commission/council.
  • The mayors of the other 42 cities is selected by voters as a separate office, or as the top at-large vote-getter. 
  • 35 of the 49 total cities have city manager-council governments (like Battle Creek), and in 28 of those voters select the mayor as a separate office, or as the top at-large vote-getter.
Some history:
  • 1913 -- According to the charter, also acted as the executive head of the organization.
  • 1960 -- The commission approved charter revisions that put the current process in place. Before then, Battle Creek voters directly elected the mayor, who served a two-year term.
  • 1969 -- A Citizens for Charter Amendment group circulated petitions for proposals that included direct election for mayor and vice mayor, but they were invalidated in court because of improper language.
  • 1969 -- Voters rejected a city commission proposals for mayor being the candidate with the highest number of votes in even-year elections.
  • 1980 -- Voters rejected a proposal in which the mayor would be the at-large candidate with the most votes.
  • 1984 -- A charter review committee suggested the mayor be selected based on being the at-large candidate with the most votes, but no action was ever taken on this recommendation. A review committee suggested a separate ballot for mayor, but the city commission never considered this.
  • 1993 -- The city commission tabled a proposal by one commissioner to give voters two votes on a separate ballot, with the top vote-getter becoming mayor, and the second becoming vice mayor.
  • 2004 -- A blue ribbon committee formed to discuss the mayor's selection, but its ultimate recommendation was to not change the current charter. 
  • 2005 -- Despite the 2004 recommendation, a commissioner initiated a resolution proposing a charter amendment for the direct election of the mayor -- essentially the same proposal voters will see this year. However, the 2005 proposal did not receive the required 3/5 commission vote to get on the ballot.
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Especially because you can now vote absentee for no specific reason, we hope all eligible Battle Creek neighbors will vote on March 10, and in all of the 2020 elections. You can find more information here on our website, at battlecreekmi.gov/elections