Better 6 than 4?
Public can vote in election for 2 more council districts
Within the current City Council districts, the Westside falls into the south portion of District 1 and the north end of District 3, with the line between them basically along
Will it fall in a greatly different place in two years?
That mostly depends on a city charter change that will go before voters in the April 5 election. The plan, proposed by Mayor Lionel Rivera and approved for the ballot by council as a whole Jan. 25, is to increase the number of district representatives on council from four to six, starting in 2013. This would be accomplished by having the two lowest-vote-getting winners in this year's at-large City Council race (five will be elected in all) serve only two years instead of four. Those seats would then transform to district seats in 2013, the ballot question proposes.
Rivera believes the change is necessary because the new “strong mayor” system that voters approved by charter change in November (and which takes effect in April) defines the mayor as a person controlling most of the basic functions that a city manager used to perform.
“When the City Council no longer has a city manager reporting to them and basically directing the administrative/executive side of government, citizens need more direct contact with more council representation,” he summarized, adding that higher district representation is a feature of cities with strong-mayor configurations.
Rivera's idea did not sail through the current council without some blowback. The vote to put it on the election ballot passed by only a 5-4 margin. In favor were Rivera, Scott Hente, Bernie Herpin, Jan Martin and Darryl Glenn. Opposed were Randy Purvis, Tom Gallagher, Larry Small and Sean Paige.
Both Gallagher and Purvis said they preferred not to amend the charter now but to wait until after the strong-mayor system takes effect in April, when a charter review commission could be established under the purview of a council that will have seven new members.
Purvis added the concern that those cities that have greater district representation also tend to reflect “deal-making” in which the mayor influences district reps to support his agenda by providing benefits for their areas. “The more district seats there are, the cheaper the price to acquire that vote,” Purvis said.
Hente, the District 1 council member through 2013, said in an interview afterward that he likes the six-district idea because, at least in his case, he would feel more responsive. “Part of what I do is basic constituent services,” he said. “I try to do that for 100,000 people now with no staff, and sometimes things fall through the cracks.”
Rivera estimated that with the change each district would have about 68,000 people.
Sean Paige, the current District 3 council member (who is running at large in April) pulled a surprise at the meeting when he voted against the charter change after saying he was for it because “we do need to get more localized districts.”
Asked about his vote afterward, Paige said he changed his mind based on citizen comments in opposition from Douglas Bruce. “Bruce raised an issue I hadn't thought about before, involving how term limits would be counted, which raised doubts about whether I personally, and we on council, had thought the matter through carefully enough,” Paige explained. “The last thing we want to do is create more problems by too hastily trying to 'fix' flaws in the strong-mayor proposal.”
Voters in the April election will have no map defining - nor even estimating - what the geographical layout of the six districts might look like. The proposed charter amendment states that the City Clerk's Office will not be required to prepare a district map until 120 to 150 days before the April 2013 city election.
Such work is a “very detailed process,” City Clerk Kathryn Young explained after the Jan. 25 meeting, saying she has no plans to draw up a sample map in advance of that.
Even in past district-election years (such as 2005 or 2009), when the number of district council members didn't change, City Clerk's staff has had to recalculate each district, which typically results in a few precincts moving from one district to another. The whole criterion is population, making sure that each district is as close as possible in numbers. Geographic continuity - such as keeping the Westside area intact - is not a factor, Young said.
Any redistricting action by the City Clerk's Office in 2013 would still have to go through public review and hearings before it would become final, she added.
Westside Pioneer article