WINFIELD | A lively discussion about the makeup of future town councils ensued during Tuesday’s Town Council study session.
Councilman Jim Simmons championed a change from the election of all at-large council members to one representative from each of the town’s four wards and one at-large member.
He said he discussed the matter with Town Attorney David Austgen prior to bringing the idea up at the study session and was given the legal green light.
When Winfield was formed in 1993, the population was small and the election of an all at-large town council made sense, Simmons said during his presentation. The same was true after the 2000 U.S. census was taken and only two wards were designated.
Town Council candidates could reside in any area of town.
However, he said, the 2010 census revealed a population growth that warranted creating four voting districts or wards in the next primary and general election. That’s because the number of housing developments have increased and brought in more people.
“This gives us an opportunity for representation from all four voting districts and one at-large member,” Simmons said, suggesting a change in the town’s ordinances to allow this kind of election.
When the next elections are held in two years, there will be four voting machines in Town Hall, he said.
Voters would cast ballots for all of the candidates no matter what district they represented, Simmons suggested. However, each district would have a representative on the council.
In discussions with a Munster Town Council member, Simmons said he discovered that’s the way elections are held in that town.
“We are the only community in Lake and Porter counties that still votes (for all at-large candidates no matter where they reside in the town),” he said, adding that DoubleTree West is the only residential area not represented on the current council.
“If no one from a district signed up to run, it would be up to the county Republican and Democratic chairmans to find someone,” he said.
The other four Winfield Town Council members disagreed with Simmons’ proposal.
David Anderson asked if Simmons really wanted both Republicans and Democrats on the council.
“I don’t,” Anderson said in reply to his own question.
Paulette Skinner said that while the idea was good in theory, it wouldn’t work for a town the size of Winfield. Neither would staggered council terms that Simmons suggested because of the expense of multiple elections in four years, she said.
In 2011, Winfield’s population was recorded as 4,583. By contrast, Munster recorded a population of 23,583 in that same year.
Town Council President Gerald Stiener suggested that Simmons talk with each council member individually. The study session format doesn’t permit voting on such a change in ordinances so no action could be taken.