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Santa Rosa panel: District elections should go to ballot

District elections got a surprise boost Thursday when the committee that tentatively voted against it two weeks ago reversed course and agreed the issue should be put before voters.

Several members of the 21-member Charter Review Committee cited the large, impassioned turnout of residents at the public forum on the issue last Saturday as influencing their thinking.

Key to the turnaround was political consultant Herb Williams' change of heart, which he said was brought about in part by a speaker on Saturday who referenced the sacrifice of his son, Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Williams, 25, who was killed in 2007 in Iraq.

"Of all the testimony, only one person got to me," Williams said. "And that was the person who said . . . that Jesse gave his life so that everybody had the right to vote."

Williams reiterated, however, that he remained solidly against district elections, and was only changing his position about whether it should be placed on the ballot.

"I'm opposed to district elections, but I want the voters to weigh in on it," Williams said.

Exactly how to go about that, however, proved highly controversial. Several committee members argued strongly that it made no sense for the committee to be against district elections and yet advise the council to put it on the ballot anyway.

"I don't believe it's within our province to say we think the charter is good as it is, and yet we think we should put it to a vote," said Bill Arnone. "It seems inconsistent."

Chairman Mike Senneff agreed, saying it was the committee's role to advise the council whether the charter should be changed, and if so, how. Giving the council "an amorphous statement" that it should give voters the chance to decide on district elections crossed a line into telling the council what it should do, which he said was "not our job."

"Frankly we weren't asked to that dance. Nobody invited us into that party," Senneff said. "They are the elected representatives."


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