Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The committee system and redistricting; why the fuss?

     Recently the Greensboro City Council decided to "reorganize" into a committee system where several committees were formed to discuss and hash out issues within those areas.  This system has been promoted as an avenue for more efficiency, reducing the length of council meetings and providing quicker "insight" on issues the council would vote on.  It has met with resistance from two council members but was approved by a 7-2 vote.  On its' face the plan seems to have some merit though I share some of the same issues that the dissenting council members have.  However, every plan should be designed to custom fit an entity as one size definitely does not fit all when it comes to politics.
     The problem with this system in Greensboro is that the council is currently comprised of a super majority, 8 Democrats to one Republican.  Obviously the lone Republican and fiscal conservative cannot be divided into several pieces meaning dissenting views will not exist on several of the committees.  This will lead to the same discussion having to be repeated among the full council thus defeating the stated purpose of efficiency.  This system operating with this super majority can also appear to be a way of ramrodding issues through with little or less public scrutiny.  This does not scream transparency to me.  Already this system has caused bickering between members and even some condescending remarks aimed at the one; such as questioning the intellect of the dissenting member.  This type of behavior reeks of bullying which will go unchecked as the make up of the council is currently comprised.  It is a tempest that seems political in nature rather than efficiency based and allows for the super majority to become even more powerful.
     This type of committee system might work if the odds were evened out.  A 4 to 4 or even a 5-3 split on council with regards to party (yes I know it's supposed to be non-partisan but everybody knows who is who) would lend more of a feeling of cooperation as both sides would be represented on each committee.  Not to completely lay this on the Democrats either; an 8-1 Republican majority would be just as bad.  8-1 is a ratio that needs to be corrected during this election anyway.  These numbers do not reflect the make up of the city and lend to the possibility of favoritism to one section of the city over the other.
     Which brings us to the redistricting.  How is this tied to the committee system and 8-1 super majority?  Our current system lends itself to areas of our city that are more active politically than others.  Part of this problem is the apathy in many parts of Greensboro that feel their vote won't accomplish anything, citing preferential treatment to downtown development and east side Greensboro political leaders.  East Greensboro has long been more organized as a voting block in our city elections and under this system has direct effect on 6 of the 9 council seats; Districts 1 and 2, all 3 At Large seats and the Mayor.  It is for this reason that many in town want to eliminate the At Large seats for more streamlined representation of the city by reducing the size of the districts and eliminating the manipulation of the council by political activists.  East Greensboro does not make up 66% of Greensboro and should not have say in who serves on 66% of the council.  For the record, I have advocated for at least one At Large candidate that would serve as Mayor Pro Tem.  There will always be a "minority" population within a district whose demographics would change from district to district.  One At Large member would give those folks recourse should they not feel their district member is "approachable".  The committee system would allow for this continued dominance and help hide efforts toward this goal of maintaining that position of power.
     The City Council as currently comprised seems to be campaigning for each other, attempting to maintain the status quo.  A maintaining of the 8-1 super majority allows for little resistance to the spending of hundreds of thousands if not eventually millions of tax payer dollars to fight the state legislature on redistricting.  If this redistricting goes through, several of the current council would be eliminated from occupying a seat as they depend on east Greensboro votes to win elections.  Some live in the same voting districts and would have to compete against each other.  A redistricting would cut off these candidates and force them to"win where they live"; not an easy task for some of them.  8-1 also keeps the current course for the city as is, continuing to develop downtown and pouring tax payer dollars into ventures that were originally sold to the community as "private".  The committee system would continue in an ineffective state and at least half of Greensboro would still grumble.
     As I told the audience in my closing remarks during the League of Women voters luncheon and forum today; regardless of what you read and hear in the media, the At Large City Council race is NOT a foregone conclusion.  There are alternatives to the status quo.  New blood is vital for this council to improve and for the majority of the city residents to have representation.  To not vote is to accept what we have.  To not vote is to relinquish your right to complain.  If you want downtown development to continue above all other citywide needs then vote the status quo or just don't show up. If you are okay with voters in east Greensboro dominating the elections and choosing your council for you, likewise.
     But, if you have had enough of the direction the city is moving and want simple amenities that have been woefully ignored such as better roads and an improved transportation system it just may be worthwhile for you to take the time and show up to vote.  Enough is enough; or are you willing to sit back and take more?
     The choice is yours.

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