Under Newport’s current charter, the city’s mayor isn’t directly selected by the voters. Instead, every two years, the newly-elected seven-person city council chooses one of its at-large members to serve as mayor.

It’s among the first decisions the council makes — and some have argued it’s undemocratic, and creates tension on the council from the get-go as different members vie for the mayorship.

That could soon change, however, after the City Council unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday to form a commission to study potential revisions to Newport’s charter.

Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, who co-sponsored the resolution, said the commission could also consider other structural changes, including whether to extend or stagger the council’s two-year terms.

It seems by the time you get on the council and you kind of learn the ropes a bit, you're already having to run again,” she said. “And it might help if there were a three-year term.”

The Charter Review Commission will be composed of seven Newport citizens, appointed by the City Council. After a public input process, the City Council will ultimately decide which proposed changes to put on the ballot for voters’ final approval in the 2022 general election.

The last time Newport’s City Charter was revised was in the 2014 general election.

Newport also moved forward Wednesday with plans to increase public outreach as the city begins to redraw the lines of its wards and voting precincts, following the 2020 census. At its meeting, the City Council passed a resolution directing city staff to hire an outside party with expertise in redistricting to help guide the process. The resolution also calls for multiple meetings to educate and engage the public.

“I also see this as an opportunity for civic investment and engagement, and education 101,” said Councilor Angela McCalla, who co-sponsored the resolution. “There’s tons of people that come in and may be new to understanding what exactly this is, and how to actually draw the lines, and how to strategically ensure that their voice is inputted into what happens.”

Councilor Jamie Bova, who also co-sponsored the resolution, said maximizing public engagement is important to demystify a widely enigmatic process.

“Redistricting is the type of thing that is kind of — it's mysterious and confusing to a lot of people,” said Bova. “But it has really lasting impacts, or at least it has the potential to have really lasting impacts on residents, and on the city as a whole.”

Antonia Ayres-Brown is the Newport Reporter for The Public’s Radio and a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at antonia@thepublicsradio.org