Voters will not have the opportunity to elect a mayor-at-large any time in the near future as a result of action Paris City Council took at a Monday night meeting.
Councilors nixed the recommendation of the recently completed Charter Review Commission and approved plans to move forward with other recommendations for a May 7 election.
Spurred by remarks by Councilors Gary Savage and Linda Knox, the council voted 6-1 against the mayor-at-large recommendation before voting unanimously for a motion to approve other recommendations, mostly clean-up amendments to mirror current practices and to align the charter with state law.
Knox first planted a seed of doubt about the at-large election when she noted that although the mayor, proposed to be the eighth council member, would not have voting rights, they would still possess influence.
“You can never undermine the influence that our mayor would have on the citizenry, and the council as well,” Knox said. “So I mean that it’s not a totally powerless position.”
Knox also questioned the possibility of the at-large mayoral election opening the door for other changes to the federal court requirement for single-member districts.
“Is this process going to open the door for this to ever become anything other than single member voting districts?” she asked.
“I suppose somebody could take that issue at another time,” City Attorney Stephanie Harris replied. “As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think we could get approval from the court for a request for at-large election for all council members.”
Savage entered the conversation.
“Just now, y’all have made the case of how important the mayor’s position is,” Savage said. “I disagree wholeheartedly (with mayor-at-large) because we would go totally against the 1976 ruling. That ruling is what allowed the majority of this council to be minority … Because we have 70% Caucasian and 20% Black population, you would ensure that no minority would ever get that important position, that influential position that we just talked about.”
Savage then questioned both the thought process Charter Revision Commission members may have had in making the mayor-at-large recommendation and the amount of understanding members had of the 1976 ruling.
“I don’t see how anybody that stands for civil rights or quality could even support this,” Savage said. “I appreciate the thought process, but it would take Paris, Texas back to 1976, and I don’t think we should go back; we should move forward.”
When asked after the meeting about her single opposition vote, Councilor Renae Stone said she did not want to go against the commission’s recommendation.
“They wanted the people in the community to have a say, not just for seven people to decide,” Stone said. “This has taken away from the people in the community to have a voice. We put them (commissioner members) in the position to decide, and just because we didn’t like what they decided we went against them, and that’s just showing power.”