StarTribune.com

Shorewood to disband its ward system by fall

By LAURIE BLAKE, Star Tribune

June 10, 2008

 

Shorewood will disband its ward system and return to at-large elections this fall, a switch that will require all four council members and the mayor to face election again in November.

After residents packed a public hearing in support of the change, the City Council voted unanimously Monday night to again make the city a single voting district in time for the 2008 elections.

The action ends a lackluster six-year experience with wards during which voter participation declined and residents said they lost the ability to hold the council accountable.

Shorewood, with 7,400 residents, is the only city of its size to have sought special state permission to carve itself up into wards, said City Attorney Tim Keane. Legislators granted that permission in 2002.

"When it comes to ward elections, we set ourselves apart from everybody else,'' Keane said.

Now the city on the southern shores of Lake Minnetonka has set a new precedent in reversing the decision. Without guidance in state law, Shorewood officials consulted with Hennepin County, the secretary of state and the League of Minnesota Cities to arrive at the conclusion that the decision had to be made by today to be in effect for this fall's elections.

Residents who spoke at the hearing wanted an immediate return to the at-large system.

"I am opposed to the ward system because I think Shorewood is too tiny to fool with that," said Bill Smith.

Mary Wiersum said she wanted to see all council candidates on her street and at her door campaigning.

JoAnn Schaub said "at-large elections encourage all council members to study all issues. Now you can call all council members, but not all of them will welcome your call."

Many residents said allowing voters to elect all council members will make city officials more accountable to voters.

"I believe in local control,'' said Pat Arnst. "[Having] wards has reduced our representation.''

Jane Skyervold said at-large election "is the democratic way to go.''

Council Member Richard Woodruff reported that he had studied records of voter turnout and found that it had declined since the advent of the ward system. Other council members agreed the ward system had not served the city well.

Although Woodruff had two years of his present term remaining, he agreed all seats should be open "and all of us will be up for election should we choose to run.''

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711