Commissioners reviewing Sandy Springs’ city charter have decided the city should stick with the way it now elects City Council members.

Members of the Sandy Springs Charter Review Commission voted 6-1 on May 31 to recommend state lawmakers make no change in the section of the charter governing how council members are chosen. That means that council members will continue to be elected from six single-member districts.

Oliver Porter

Oliver Porter

Commissioner Oliver Porter, who helped draw up the original charter, cast the sole vote against keeping single-member district elections.

Porter, other commissioners and several residents who testified before the commission had argued that electing council members from a mix of single-member and at-large districts would allow voters to choose more than just one council member. Electing three council members from single-member districts and three city-wide would mean that each voter in the city would choose a majority of the council, they argued.

“The reason to have at-large [districts] is to avoid Balkanization,” Porter said.

Carolyn Axt

Carolyn Axt

Commissioner Carolyn Axt said she had heard complaints from residents that they felt shut out if they held positions different than the ones taken by their representative on the council. “The thing I’ve heard loud and clear is if you’re in a district with a council member who goes one way or the other, people say, ‘Why go vote?’”

But other members of the commission argued the current system works well for Sandy Springs. “What we have is straightforward, it’s simple,” said Commissioner Larry Young. “What we’ve got has worked pretty well…. I’d be inclined to keep what we’ve got now.”

Other commissioners argued that at-large elections would be prohibitively expensive for some potential candidates. Also, they said, council members elected city-wide would rival or exceed the power of the city’s non-voting mayor.

“I like the system we have,” said Commissioner Robert Shaw. “I think it’s worked well. I like the small districts.”

Other questions presented to the commission for debate include whether council members should serve staggered terms, rather than all being elected at once, or face limits on the number of terms they may serve.

The next commission meeting is scheduled for June 14, beginning at 4 p.m. The commission will meet at Sandy Springs City Hall.

–Joe Earle

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