When the election qualifying period closed at noon on Friday, there were three names in the hat. The problem — there was only one candidate per available seat in Maitland.
Freshman Council members Phil Bonus and Linda Frosch were re-elected unopposed to Maitland City Council — for the second time. They were also elected unopposed three years ago. Newcomer Ivan Valdes was elected unopposed to Seat 1, which was previously held by Howard Schieferdecker.
Schieferdecker was elected unopposed in March 2010, replacing term-limited Councilman Jeff Flowers. He was made vice mayor by his fellow councilors and rose to mayor on Jan. 4 after Doug Kinson resigned.
So, of the current City Council, only Councilwoman Bev Reponen has faced a challenger in an election bid. That means that the 16,000 citizens of Maitland will be lead by a mayor and three council members who didn’t receive a single vote from the populace.
Twelve residents have been elected unopposed to Maitland City Council from 1990 to 2011, according to city clerk records.
Is democracy failing in Maitland? The governing power is supposed to be derived from the people — people are supposed to have a say in who sits on that dais.
“…but the voters did have a say — they made the decision not to run,” former Mayor Doug Kinson said in December, expressing his distaste for uncontested elections.
Maybe Maitland citizens’ silence says it all — everyone is perfectly happy with the decisions of their elected officials and don’t mind someone new joining the dais in April.
But it’s more likely that citizens were sitting back, waiting for some other guy or gal to challenge Bonus or Frosch, and then come March 8, they’d get out to the polls to cast a vote.
But their track record isn’t good. For example, only 1,697 people voted in the March 2009 mayoral election — 17 percent of the city’s registered voters. Kinson was re-elected by about 300 votes — 300 people decided who would lead the city.
On Friday, the citizens lost their ability to choose their leader when no one else in the entire city mounted a challenge against Frosch, Bonus or Valdes.
The upside is the city is saving $16,000 because they won’t have anything on the March 8 ballot. The savings is welcome, considering tax revenues are still falling and the city plans to borrow even more money — $1.7 million — to build its new city hall this year. The City Council discussed at a workshop Monday potentially using the money saved from the election to fund a charter review.
So how can another uncontested election be prevented? Before Maitland residents can even entertain the idea of running for public office, they have to care about Maitland and understand that the decisions politicians make at the city level — not the county, state or national level — have the greatest impact on their families, neighborhoods and businesses.
They have to understand that when you e-mail a Maitland City Council member, you don’t get an automated reply or a message from that person’s press secretary. There’s a good chance you’ll get a reply directly from them, and that they will keep your opinion in mind when they make their decision on an item.
City Council meetings run from 6:30 p.m. to about 10 p.m. on the second and fourth Mondays of the month. Not everyone can attend those meetings — or wants to. But what if there was streaming audio or live video that a citizen could turn on in their living room? That way they don’t miss dinner, they can see their family, but they can keep up on city issues. There’s also the Observer, which features Mayor Howard Schieferdecker’s weekly City Talk column and other articles on Maitland goings-on — in-depth information that you can’t find in other media.
The more residents that care about their city and understand the issues, the more votes that will be cast and more and more citizens will be willing to make a run for public office.
Apathy is preventing Maitland from reaching its potential. The city and residents need to work together to get the cogs of democracy turning again.