In my last two posts I talked about representation levels, and some of the plusses and minuses of greater direct representation in the legislative body that may come of a Metro Government. As we look at this, the question becomes, “How do we find the right fit for Shelby County?”
Let’s consider some facts about Shelby County:
Our population is greater than 6 states, our GDP is greater than 12 states and 123 countries. We have a complex and diverse economy that spills over into Arkansas and Mississippi and makes it necessary for us to operate, to the extent that we can, as a small state. We live at the crossroads of two of the most traversed highways for freight in the US. There’s a lot of stuff going on here, and that doesn’t even touch the local issues like crime, poverty and trash pick-up.
Of the four Metro Governments studied we have the LEAST representative government, in both the City and County. Further, even both of these combined into some mythical government barely reach the level of representation that we currently have in the State Government. Our systems are complicated and nonsensical to the point that it seems like an intentional attempt to disenfranchise constituents, and most importantly, it’s just not working. We need only look around ourselves, read the paper, or watch the evening news to know this.
So what’s the answer?
From my perspective, there are a lot of them, but the prescription of the Memphis Daily News Editorial from last August ain’t it. Of the 4 Metro Governments studies, the smallest legislative branch, Jacksonville, FL has the fewest, 19 members, 14 of which are single member districts. If you look at all the areas studied, you see that the “Census statistical areas” are very close to Memphis, all ranking between 33rd and 42nd largest in the nation. We should, at the very least, be on par from a representational standpoint, with the cities that we compete directly with.
So what’s the answer? The easiest is to keep the number that we have between the two governments that are merging. We are already paying for 26 Council/Commission members, why not get more bang for our buck by creating 26 localized districts. This would result in a 1:35k representation ratio, almost half the representation of Nashville, but as much as three times better than we have now.
What about the fragmentation that I talked about in the last post? Well, I personally think it’s important to have “at-large” members, someone who can look at the whole pie from a legislative standpoint. So add 5 “at-large” members to make it an odd number and make those positions similar to the way Davidson County handles it…the top 5 candidates get the seats. This eliminates the need for the 1991 Consent Decree that has allowed candidates with a plurality to win hotly contested “Super District” seats, as well as the runoff issue that spurred that decision in the first place.
For that matter, mandate Instant Runoff Voting in the charter, to ensure that the single member district and executive candidates have a majority of the votes rather than wasting money on a runoff election that no one shows up to.
Term Limits…well, I’ve gone on record in opposition to legislative Term Limits, and I’m not about to change that. Voters don’t need an arbitrary deadline to find a successor to a successful representative. Let the voters have the luxury of voting for whomever the heck they want to. If that’s someone you don’t like, or you think has been around too long, get off your ass and recruit some opposition.
The point here is, there are a lot of good answers, and I don’t pretend to have all of them. But putting something before the voters that’s less representative than we have now is a non-starter. We’re a diverse community and we need to start embracing and utilizing that diversity as an asset instead of cowering in the corner wishing it away.
It’s time, and this is one way to make it happen.
As always, I’ll be monitoring what the Charter Commission discusses on this issues in the coming months, and report what I see.
The process is in it’s infancy, it’s our job to raise it right, and make our government into the government that we want it to be.
– Steve Ross is a Co-Chair of Rebuild Government, an organization committed to build community awareness and participation in the Metro Charter process by creating and giving voice to an informed and engaged citizenry. The views expressed in this space are not necessarily those of Rebuild Government, its Co-Chairs, organizers, or affiliates.