Jerome has wrestled with the idea of having staggered terms for its town council members for years, and last week it became official that this is now the law of the land for the mountainside community.
This marks the second time Jerome has opted for staggered terms for its council members. The last time the town went down this road, local citizens took matters into their own hands and repealed the law via referendum.
Last week’s final vote tally was a mandate for staggered terms, at least by Jerome standards. It was approved by a 7-vote margin: 89 yes votes for staggered terms and 82 votes against.
All of which poses a new question for Jerome voters: Should the town continue its long-held tradition of having the top vote-getter in the municipal election serve as the town’s mayor?
Based on town tradition, it’s a good bet that Alex Barber will be Jerome’s new mayor once the council is sworn into office in 2019. She was the top vote-getter in the municipal primary by a single vote over Hunter Bachrach. As a footnote, this tradition has not always held true in Jerome as Jane Moore was the top vote-getter in the 2002 municipal primary – again by one vote -- and she opted to not take the mayor’s seat and instead allowed Jay Kinsella to serve another two years. There are some in Jerome who say Moore abdicated the mayor’s seat because she thought Kinsella was doing an admirable job; others will tell you it had more to do with the internal politics of noisy motorcycles in Jerome, a subject on which Moore was highly outspoken.
But let’s just assume Barber does indeed become Jerome’s next mayor. Let’s also assume she has done an outstanding job as the town’s mayor two years from now when Jerome has its first staggered-term election. If she is not on that initial staggered-term election ballot, should she be required to relinquish her mayoral seat to the top vote-getter in an election for which she was not even on the ballot?
Will the town continue with this tradition, or look, perhaps, to an outright election of the mayor in Jerome?
This has been the pattern of other towns in the Verde Valley over the years. During the past 30-plus years, all of our local town and city councils have transitioned from selecting the mayor from within to letting the voters decide. There has also been an evolution throughout the Verde Valley of having municipal mayors elected every two years to eventually being voted in to four-year terms. Camp Verde, for example, still elects its mayor every two years. Council members are elected to four-year terms.
Jerome should follow suit, especially now that it is rotating new council members in on staggered four-year terms every two years.
Tradition is a fine thing, but tradition for tradition’s sake doesn’t always provide the best outcome. That’s especially true when it comes to the political leadership of a town.
Besides, there is nothing more traditional in this country than letting voters have the final say.
Now that Jerome council members are elected to staggered terms, it’s probably time to toss tradition aside and also let the community’s voters decide who is the best person to serve as Jerome’s mayor.