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Bartlesville voters to decide on changes to city charter

Bartlesville City Hall
City of Bartlesville Website
Bartlesville City Hall

Bartlesville will ask voters to weigh in on 10 propositions to change the city’s charter in a special election on April 2.

Notably, the changes include how long city councilors serve and when council elections take place.

Proposition No. 1 would change the term length for city councilors from two to three years and move the general election for those councilors from November to April.

City Manager Mike Bailey said Bartlesville needs the changes for stability and better governance.

“The city council really spends about a year learning,” he said. "On a two-year term, that really means they only spend about a year governing.”

Bailey admits, however, that there is a trade-off with moving council elections to April.

“It certainly will decrease voter turnout,” he said. "But, I also think that it will increase the voters’ knowledge.”

The city is essentially making a choice: have elections with potentially fewer voters who are more informed or have more voters who aren’t as informed.

Bailey said he's seen firsthand what happens when uninformed voters show up at the polls.

“I’ve had voters personally come to me and say, ‘Well, it was in November, I went in to vote on the presidential election and they handed me a ballot for city council member. What was that about?’”

He said two elections, one in 2016 and another in 2022, serve as prime examples of what happens when voters show up to vote but don't know who is on the ballot.

In 2016, Council Ward 4 candidate Joel Rabin withdrew from his race yet he still received just over 46% of the vote.

In 2022, John Maples, running in the same ward, also withdrew. However, like Rabin, Maples received just over 46% of the vote when election day came around.

“That really was kind of a wake-up call for all of us,” Bailey said.

Bailey stressed that Bartlesville city councilors are not paid and must raise thousands of dollars for campaigns.

“So, they don’t get paid, and they’re running campaigns at the same time as United States senators and presidents and governors.”

In addition to terms and election dates, Proposition No. 1 would also stagger election years for each city councilor with the goal of only allowing up to two council seats go up for election at a time.

“We ensure that we always have some degree of stability and experience on the council,” Bailey said.

A referendum on recalls

Among the other proposals on the ballot is Proposition No. 4, which would place a time limit on gathering signatures for petitions to recall a city council member.

No such limit currently exists. The proposal would require that signatures be gathered within 180 after the petition is filed with the city clerk. The clerk then would have 30 days to verify the signatures, an increase from the current 10.

The proposition would not allow a councilor to be recalled for the first and last four months of their term.

Voters can learn more about the upcoming election and see a sample ballot on the Bartlesville city website.

Early voting for the charter election will run March 28 to 29. Election day is April 2.

Ben Abrams is a news reporter and All Things Considered host for KWGS.
Check out all of Ben's links and contact info here.