Mayor-elect Don Kyle announced Thursday that the first item on his agenda when he takes office Nov. 5 will be to resolve the lingering city manager issue.
Kyle said he would encourage the City Council to resubmit the petition for a change to a council-manager form of government to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a 2010 referendum, the people of Decatur voted to change from a government with a mayor and five district council members to one with a part-time mayor, an at-large council member and three district council members. Under the changed form of government, an appointed professional city manager would handle administrative duties now handled by the mayor.
There are lots of arguments against the change, especially since Kyle has shown himself to be a competent administrator. The most disturbing aspect of the change would be the drop to three districts, which would leave many black residents feeling disenfranchised.
Ignoring the expressed will of the people, however, should never be an option for elected officials.
When the City Council and City Attorney Herman Marks withdrew the petition for a change in government before the Justice Department made a decision, they were spurning Decatur voters.
There is a good chance that the Justice Department will deny the petition on the grounds that it violates the Voting Rights Act, but that result is not certain.
Kyle is wise to recognize that a binding referendum cannot just be left hanging. Elected officials effectively vetoed a lawful decision by the people. Whatever the merits of the proposed change in government, democratic principles require city officials to make a good-faith effort to abide by popular will.
If the Justice Department denies pre-clearance of the change in government, no problem.
The city will have followed the steps required by the referendum. If the Justice Department approves or partially approves the petition, then the city can embrace the advantages that come with a professional administrator.
The City Council should quickly approve Kyle’s suggestion and re-submit the petition to the Justice Department.
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