Monday, March 23, 2015
Senate Bill 36. Pros vs. Cons
State Senator Trudy Wade's SB36 bill that has been introduced to change city voting districts and to reduce the size of the Greensboro City council appears to have come down to a partisan fight. As an unaffiliated registered voter I see pros and cons to both sides of this issue. It is certainly not "black and white".
As a layman my understanding is that proponents of this bill argue for the reduction of the size of government and providing for virtually guaranteed minority representation equal to the general population. Three of the seven proposed seats would be in districts drawn specifically to ensure African American representatives are elected. According to the website quick facts.census.gov this appears to be accurate by percentage as African Americans accounted for 40.6 percent of the population in Greensboro in 2010 and three of seven seats would equal approximately 43 percent of the council vote. Seven district representatives would vote with the Mayor not participating. "At large" council members would no longer exist.
Many have expressed concerns about the Mayor having no voting authority. One view is that it would place more of an emphasis on "consensus building" and the Mayor would be free to introduce ideas without the constraint of political ties or alliances. The Mayor could advocate for the city free from criticism or accusations of choosing sides with a vote. Additionally, with seven voting members being an odd number the potential for ties would be eliminated. The smaller council would please those that believe it is too big causing more problems than solutions.
However, a closer look indicates that while the percentages do indicate a fair representation of African Americans, the city's total population of Caucasians is only 48.4 percent. That means that the "total" minority population of an additional 11 percent, classified as "other", is actually a majority of 51.6 percent. Is the bill being introduced to ensure "minority" representation or just African American representation? Or is it to protect something else?
My perception of "at large" members is that they provide representation for those in a minority population within a district. Minorities exist no matter how the lines are drawn. The demographics of those minorities change from district to district. Without an "at large" member on the council there is no recourse for those citizens who may feel their elected district councilman does not represent them.
As for my position; I agree that the council currently is too large. I also agree that a referendum should be held on this proposal without state government in general or Senator Wade in particular being allowed to set a dangerous precedent of simply shoving a new bill affecting local elections down our throats. Here is my compromise proposal.
Keep the new proposed districts as drawn. Return voting authority to the Mayor and provide for one "at large" council member. This would allow for an odd number of votes and provide a representative for all of the population to have recourse with that one vote equalling 11 percent of the total council vote. The "at large" member would become the mayor pro-tem based on the total number of votes city wide. The size of the council would be reduced by two members. Everyone gets something.
I remember well having school merger shoved down my throat with a referendum that did not allow for a "no" vote, ironically championed by the current opposition to this bill. We elect representatives to serve in government not preside. If you support SB36 or not, the only fair way to make this change is to let the people decide their fate. It is a democracy.