What’s so Super about Super Districts?

A couple of weeks ago, my friend LeftWingCracker wrote a post that detailed many changes he believes are needed in Memphis. The first thing he mentioned was the need for smaller City Council districts.

Currently, the Memphis City Council has 13 members, 7 from individual districts, and 6 from 2 “Super” Districts. The city’s two “Super” districts basically cut the city in half, east and west. The notion of “Super Districts” is not lost on me at all. In 1966 when our city government moved to a mayor-council arrangement, it provided for 7 districts and 6 at large positions. In 1995 when the Super Districts first went into effect, splitting the 6 at large positions between 2 huge districts made sense, to ensure that one constituency wasn’t running roughshod over the other. As a transitional solution it makes good sense. Still, I have to wonder why most Memphians are more directly represented in the State House than in their own City council.

There are 17 Representatives from Shelby County in the TN State House. Of those, 12 list addresses that are located in the city limits, the other 5 are from Bartlett, Cordova and Collierville. If there are 12 districts in Memphis proper that means an average representation of 1:53500, or 1 representative for every 53500 Memphians. With 13 council seats, one would think that the representation would be better (1:49385), but they would be wrong. Because of the district breakdown we have 2 tiers of representation. In districts 1-7 the ratio is 1:91700, and in districts 8and 9 it is 1:10700 (based on 2005 population numbers and an even distribution of people in the districts).

Unfortunately, that still doesn’t tell the story. Because of the “Super” Districts, some areas have more representatives than others. In Super District 8, which comprises all of 6 and 7, and a majority of 3 and 4, ALL of the members of the Super District 8 delegation reside in District 7, effectively giving District 7 a disproportionate power. There is a similar problem in Super 9, 2 members reside in 5 and one in 2. To break that down, District 7 currently has a 1:23000 ratio (4 members of the council residing in that district with 3 representing Super 8), District 5, my district, has a 1:30566, and District 2 has a 1:45850 ratio.

The big losers in this deal are Districts 1,3,4 and 6, arguably some of the most impoverished areas of the city.

The answer to this inequity is simple, “Super” districts must go. In order to adequately represent the people of Memphis there should not be a system in place to continually put those who lack economic power in a situation where they are less served than more affluent constituents. The current arrangement only reinforces class divisions in exchange for the more emotionally charged race divisions that are the constant talk to the city.

With all of the problems currently facing the city, we deserve better and more direct representation in the City Council, and the fairest way to accomplish this is by splitting the city up into 13 equal and equitable districts. This will, no doubt, face resistance from many of the powers that be, but more direct representation is not something that we can afford to put off for too much longer.

0 thoughts

  1. I totally agree with you and have felt that single member council districts were the best system for a long time. In fact, I did a little cmapaigning against the “Super Districts” which barely won the referendum despite little organized opposition to it.

    At-large and superdistricts have produced little quality on the Council since 1968. The argument is that a community based representative would have his or her little fiefdom and not be concerned about the city as a whole. That has not proven to be true anywhere else. Special interest money would have less of an influence on council candidates and it would be easier to defeat unproductive council members.

    I plan to speak on this at the meeting of the Charter Commission at the Cordova Library tomorrow night (June 26)unless someone more eloquent than me comes. Everyone agreeing should try to be there too.

  2. PD, I count 41 for the metro county government, but yeah, that point is not lost on me either. No matter what, we need to at least have more direct representation in our city than we do in our state, and that’s not the case right now.

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