Editorials, Opinion

Council and a manager or a mayor?

We would like to thank everyone who participated in our survey from last Sunday. We received 26 responses and eight comments. Only one person chose to have their response be considered for a letter to the editor, but we’ll share some of our other respondents’ thoughts. 

(A quick disclaimer: This was not a scientifically sound survey, so it shouldn’t be taken as representative of all Morgantown city residents.) 

A slight majority (15 of 26, or roughly 58%) of respondents favored a mayor-council structure of city government. One person said they used to live in Charleston (which has a “strong mayor” government, but also a less-powerful city manager) and “it always felt like local elections were a big deal and people took a lot of thought into it.” They weren’t sure if the government’s structure necessarily had anything to do with it, but it could have been a factor. 

Another person who favored a “strong mayor” city government suggested that Morgantown might be losing out on state resources “because Charleston only listens to elected officials. A strong mayor simply has more sway.” We have no proof this is the case, but this same respondent made the valid point that “strong mayors” are paid less than city managers. Zip Recruiter says the average mayoral salary in West Virginia is $70,000, while city managers make on average $100,000 per year. Morgantown’s makes $154,000. 

Someone else said, “Electing a mayor gives the citizens the power to choose and hold their elected official accountable.” Another suggested that while a mayor-council-style might galvanize voters a little, city council elections would likely have better turnout if they coincided with national, state and other local elections. That last point is one that many have made over the years, and there was at least one proposal this past legislative session to move municipal elections for that very reason. 

Eleven of the 26 respondents preferred Morgantown keep its current council-manager structure. One proponent said, “We need equal representation from all wards.” Our current council makeup does make sure that all wards are represented; even though the mayor is selected from among the council members, she/he has no more authority or decision-making power than any other councilor. While a mayor would arguably represent the whole city, in practice a mayor-council structure could give one ward an extra voice in city government, even if the mayor isn’t a voting member of the council. 

Another respondent replied that “[h]aving a flashy and confrontational mayor seems like it would be a move in the wrong direction,” and there may be some truth to that. Though there is no guarantee Morgantown would choose a “flashy and confrontational” candidate, such figures do tend to rile people up. However, agitating the populace doesn’t always translate into voters participating in elections — it just leads to disgruntled citizens. 

Taken all together, the survey’s responses certainly give us something to think about between now and the next city council election in 2025. For now, though, we’ll thank all the voters who did turn out last Tuesday for their civic engagement and hope more will join us at the polls next time.