Hopkinsville Mayor Wendell Lynch will appoint a 12-person committee to study nonpartisan elections — a measure that he blocked in July with a rare veto after city council members voted along racial lines to switch to partisan voting for city elections.
An executive order that establishes the Citizens’ Committee to Study Nonpartisan Elections is included in the council’s Tuesday meeting agenda. The order says appointments to the committee will be made in subsequent executive orders from the mayor.
The committee’s first charge is to learn and educate the public in an “unbiased manner” on partisan versus nonpartisan elections and to explore the “basis for changing the present system.”
Among several considerations, the committee should also look at whether nonpartisan elections would improve voter participation, according to the order.
The committee’s work will include public forums “to allow feedback and education.” Lynch calls on the committee to consider “long-term disparate impact” on any group should the city change the format of elections.
At the conclusion of its study, the committee will present a report to the mayor and council. Lynch told Hoptown Chronicle that he doesn’t want to set a firm deadline for the committee to report its findings because unforeseen complications, such as pandemic restrictions if COVID-19 cases spike, could affect scheduling for meetings and forums.
On July 10, Lynch, who was then Hopkinsville’s interim mayor, vetoed a nonpartisan election ordinance the council had approved 6-5. All of the members voting in favor of the measure were white, and all opposed were Black.
Prior to the council’s vote, several Black residents spoke against the plan to switch to partisan elections for the council and mayoral races. Several said the timing was bad, since many members of the public had not been able to speak directly to the council during the coronavirus pandemic. They also expressed concerns that nonpartisan elections would diminish minority representation on the council.
Approximately 31% of the city’s residents are Black, according to U.S. Census data. Historically, a large share of the city’s Black voters have been registered Democrats and many use party affiliation to determine which local candidates best align with their interests in city government, opponents of nonpartisan elections said when they addressed the council last summer.
The council did not attempt to override Lynch’s veto, which would have required eight votes.
Lynch said he’s considering recommendations from the council for committee appointments. As of Monday, he had not decided if he will appoint any council members to the committee. He plans to make his appointments at the April 21 council meeting.
- Other items on Tuesday’s meeting agenda include:
- A proposed Hopkinsville Water Environment Authority sewer rate increase.
- An amendment to the city’s operational budget.
- Incentives for Kindred Holdings and Brazeway.
- Consideration of a Homeland Security grant to purchase an armored rescue vehicle for the Hopkinsville Police Department.
The council meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Hopkinsville Municipal Center. Members of the public may attend the meeting in person, with masks and social distancing required. A livestream will be available on the city’s website and on its Facebook page.