Mr. Ross goes to City Hall

So yesterday, I spoke to City Hall about the redistricting ordinance. I thought about doing a lot of things like showing up with 9 petitions and asking which ones applied to me, bringing a horde of people as “supporters”, all kinds of theatrical stuff. In the end I decided against it for a couple of reasons.

First, while I’ve made light of the situation, this is something I’m very serious about. While I think it’s ridiculous and flies in the face of good governance that there’s a proposed redistricting ordinance up for third reading that has no maps associated with it whatsoever a week after petitions were made available to potential candidates, I also believe, at this point anyway, that this is a condition resulting from a City Council attorney that has too many irons in the fire. That belief was confirmed by Councilman Boyd, and other members after the meeting had adjourned.

Second, at over 3 and a half hours in, and after a heated exchange between some members of the Council and Mayor Wharton, I felt there were plenty of fireworks for the small smattering of people left in the Council Chambers.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, running for public office is not just something I want to do, it is something that I absolutely will do. Right now may or may not be the time for a whole host of reasons, but it’s gonna happen. The last thing I want is to be dismissed as a crank due to a misplaced prank before I even start my first campaign.

With all those things in mind, I went downtown without so much as a plan. I had some notes scribbled on a notepad, and a general idea of what I wanted to say. I wrote down a few key phrases during the meeting, the majority of which I didn’t use, and put in my dance card to speak to the council.

When they called my name, I had a flood of things rushing through my head, some of which went far outside anything I had in my notes. But at the end of the day, I wanted to ensure that the process was respected.

From my perspective, the most important thing any governmental entity can do is ensure the processes of government, the very wheels that power the trust between the individuals and their representatives, are as free of encumbrances, be they intentional or unintentional as possible. That was the foundation of what I wanted to say. Process endures while elected officials may come and go. The integrity of that process is one of the most important things anyone can work to protect. The integrity of the process maintains the trust in institution. And while the representatives tasked with maintaining that integrity can help or hinder it, the perception of the process lives on far longer than term limits.

And so I spoke, and here’s what I said…

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After the meeting I had the opportunity to talk to some members that I don’t get the chance to talk to very often. I spoke with Edmund Ford who told me about his own concerns about the redistricting process. He is, so far, the only member to have filed his petition.

Councilman Boyd also approached me. He wanted to make sure I didn’t think there was some kind of conspiracy. I told him I don’t, and I don’t. But I’ll get into that in a minute. He also wanted to assure me that I, or anyone else, could pull any petition I pleased. I’ll test that theory later today.

Councilman Brown also came up and shook my hand. He asked me if I was a Democrat, and I said I was. He said he’d support me in my candidacy if I chose to run. I thanked him politely. I don’t think he made the connection that I was the same Steve Ross he protested so loudly about, and that’s fine. He was very nice, though I’m sure his demeanor would change if I was running against him.

All in all it was a good experience, one that I’m sure I’ll repeat after maps are open to public scrutiny.

While I stated that the timeline was less my concern now than the integrity of the process, the importance of the timeline is rapidly shifting from a secondary to a primary concern. May 17th, the next meeting of the City Council is just 65 days from the filing deadline. I’m not sure how much public scrutiny will be available at that time, nor am I certain that maps will be available. If a first draft is not available at that time, the tenor of this issue will shift 180 degrees. The next meeting of the City Council after May 17th is on June 7th, just 44 days before the filing deadline. That would, ostensibly, be the earliest date that the lines could be approved with any real public scrutiny.

In the event that maps are not available on May 17th, a more adversarial approach will be necessary, and faith in the process, and those charged with maintaining that process, will be severely damaged.

This is not a threat, but reality. I’m not sure why Council Attorney Wade is solely charged with working on redistricting, along with all his other responsibilities. I’m not sure why OPD, or an external firm hasn’t been tapped to tackle this issue. Certainly, that would require a greater deal of scrutiny. As it stands now, with Wade at the helm, any deliberations on this issue could fall under Attorney/Client privilege, which casts a shadow on a process that should shine brightly.

In short, this system is not working efficiently. I’m hopeful it gets fixed soon. As for my potential candidacy, it’s just as up in the air as the districts.

In the event I do decide to run I’ve started a Facebook page. Please join it and invite your friends to join.

In the mean time, I’ll be waiting for the maps.

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