It seemed like a good idea then. It may have been for "its' time". In 1982 the Greensboro City Council moved to a 5-3-1 system of government; a Mayor, 5 district representatives and 3 at Large members. The stated goal from moving from a 7 member city wide elected council was to ensure representation from throughout the city with an emphasis on creating African-American positions on the council. During this time, Greensboro's demographics included an over 60% white and around 30% African American population. The system created two districts where that 30% was concentrated attempting to guarantee inclusion on the council. Though the system had its' problems even then, the goal of African-American representation was accomplished bringing an answer to a question that needed to be answered.
That short term fix has now caused long term problems. Greensboro's demographics have changed drastically from 1982. As of the last census the population now stands in Greensboro as approximately 47% white, 42% black and 11% other. These are significant numbers now because the system in place has led to a city council that does not represent the entirety of the city. It has led to domination of one very organized group of voters in one fourth of the city with that group profoundly affecting 6 of the 9 council seats. What has caused this?
An organized voting block coupled with city wide voter apathy.
East Greensboro is very organized in how it gets its' citizens to vote. The churches in that community are more active politically than most "political" organizations anywhere else in town. This is not a knock by any means; they have a goal, they plan a strategy and they participate. The rest of Greensboro could learn a lot from the east side when it comes to participating in exercising their voting rights. Due to this consistent participation over the last decade or so, east Greensboro has a definitively profound effect on 6 of the 9 council seats; the Mayor, districts 1 and 2 and all 3 at Large positions. That's 66% of the council directly affected by 25% of the city; or more precisely for the leaders of 25% of the city. That very active voting block coupled with 2 very active Political Action Committees has led to a disproportionate effect on council votes, agendas, priorities and decisions. It has also caused an 8-1 super majority where at least a third of the city's total population is left with no representation or recourse at all. Yes I know the council is supposed to be non-partisan but we all know who is what. One at Large candidate, Marikay Abuzuaiter, did not win one single precinct in the 2013 election including the north part of town where she lives yet still finished third due to her strength in east Greensboro voting. This very strong voting block continues to elect the same candidates regardless of their record of achievement or lack thereof. The policies and direction never changes. Therefore the problems not only do not get solved they often don't even get addressed.
This dominance of Greensboro elections would be alleviated if the other 3 sides of Greensboro would become more involved. Recent turnouts for local elections are not encouraging with the expectation for our upcoming primary to be in the single digits. Many citizens throughout Greensboro complain about the "east side" control of city politics. The last time I took Math in school, 75% was greater than 25% (common core not withstanding). North, west and south Greensboro have no one to blame but themselves if this current council is allowed to remain intact.
The current voting district map.
As the census figures bear out, Greensboro is a much more diverse city than in 1982. With the exception of a few "exclusive" neighborhoods (both high and low end) the majority of housing developments and neighborhoods are not nearly as segregated as they were in 1982. The need to manipulate district lines to ensure minority representation is no longer necessary. The at large race in recent years has been dominated by an African American, Yvonne Johnson, who has also served as Mayor. Just as the creation of districts was needed in 1982 to be more inclusive, so are the new proposed voting districts of 2015. As currently drawn, a citizen of Greensboro can get in his car at the traffic circle where Greene and Spring Garden Streets meet, drive approximately one mile to Fulton Street and will have touched the borders of 4 of the 5 voting districts. Theoretically, the Mayor, 3 at Large members and 4 of the 5 district representatives could live within a square mile of each other. For the most part, at least 6 of those 8 aren't that far away at the moment. There is no way this current council can be remotely familiar with even half of Greensboro residents.
The new 8 district plan allows for new candidates and fresh ideas with a greater working knowledge of their much more "user friendly" districts to have the opportunity to serve Greensboro. The new plan will also allow for a greater system of checks and balances providing an opportunity for council to not be as bogged down in specific projects or issues to the detriment of city needs. With an 8-1 super majority there is no recourse or avenue to redirect the council's concentration from "cosmetic" projects back to not neglecting everyday necessities such as infrastructure. A new performing arts center would be a wonderful addition to the city and "maybe" 20 percent of our citizens would enjoy it. 100 percent of our citizens utilize roads and transportation. Which do you believe should be the priority? With different voices representing more specific areas of the city, these lapses in concentration would be less likely to occur. If they did occur, the chances of relieving that representative from his position for lack of performance would be greatly enhanced as he would be held responsible by a more concentrated electorate.
The new map would also eliminate the problem of "double representation" at every post except the Mayor. These new districts would enhance representation, enhance accountability and emphasize the accomplishments or lack thereof of each council member thus allowing for a more educated voting population. By reducing the size of the areas of representation, this plan has an opportunity to bring local government back closer to the people where it was intended to be all along. In other words, to represent not preside.
The current 8-1 super majority on our city council being led by Mayor Vaughn is intent on spending hundreds of thousands and probably millions of your tax payer dollars to ensure the status quo. She wants to protect her "club", the ones that will allow business to continue as usual. Greensboro City Councilmen should include leadership qualities at all 9 positions. Currently, we are short four leaders. The followers continue to be elected due to their willingness to repay east Greensboro for electing them. The current 5-3-1 system is antiquated and needs to be replaced. This current council will not do it as they are more interested in protecting their positions on council than putting Greensboro's greater good at the fore.
As I have said before and will keep saying for the next month; there are alternatives regardless of what you are reading and hearing in the media. The at Large race is NOT a foregone conclusion. Neither are the races in Districts 1, 2, 3 or the Mayoral race. However, unless the rest of Greensboro's citizens, north, south and west stand up to be heard, 25% of Greensboro will continue to dominate policy for the Greensboro City Council.
I know one candidate that should he win election will not have his name on that law suit against the Board of Elections.