The special election for the First Congressional District may be at the top of the ballot, but voters in tiny Central Falls may have a chance to reshape their city government on Nov. 7.
The City Council meets tonight to consider a ballot referendum that would shrink the size of the city’s legislative body from seven members to five, eliminating the two at-large positions while keeping the five seats that represent each ward.
Laurilim Rosado Martinez and Tatiana Baena are the current councilors at-large.
If approved by the council, voters would be asked to approve or reject the change on Nov. 7.
Voters would also decide whether to limit councilors to eight years of service in total (four two-year terms). Currently, they can’t serve more than eight years consecutively, which means they could serve an unlimited number of years as long as they left the council for a time in between.
The argument in favor of at-large council seats is usually that the councilors representing an entire city or town can offer a big-picture view of issues rather than ward-based councilors who, as former Providence City Council president John Igliozzi was fond of saying, view themselves as mini-mayors of their neighborhoods.
But Central Falls is so small that you don’t see the kind of ward-based politicking that you might see in Providence or Cranston. One could argue that the entire council should be at-large, but opponents of that idea say it would make running for office significantly more expensive (for example, candidates would have to spend upwards of $5,000 on citywide mailers to voters).
The Central Falls council has been hotbed for political talent in recent years. Current Mayor Maria Rivera is a former council president, state Treasurer James Diossa was on the council before serving two terms as mayor, and state Senator Jonathon Acosta is a former councilor.
There is one downside to ballot questions in special election years: turnout. Only 639 Central Falls residents voted in the special Democratic and Republican primaries last week, and that was with a strong get-out-the-vote effort from several Democrats. With the outcome of the congressional race not really in doubt, turnout could be even worse.
This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, links to interesting stories, and more. If you’d like to receive it via email Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.