Why Ward reapportionment plans should not consolidate central city neighborhoods
COLUMBIA, 9/4/11 (Op-Ed) -- Central city neighbors need Council muscle.
Precisely because of the interests they share, older neighborhoods in Columbia's central city need more representation on the Columbia City Council, not less.
For as long as anyone can remember, central city infrastructure has lagged the rest of Columbia. Even downtown's wealthiest pioneers and patrons -- historic preservationist John Ott, for instance -- have had to fight City Hall to improve basic infrastructure. Without Council votes, such fights are in vain.
Presently, three Columbia City Council members represent most central city residents: Fred Schmidt in the First Ward; Gary Kespohl in the Third Ward; and Daryl Dudley in the Fourth Ward. (Parts of the Grasslands and East Campus may also qualify as central city neighborhoods, adding areas in Wards 5 and 6). But Columbia's Ward Reapportionment Committee -- established to balance population changes in light of the 2010 Census -- has introduced plans which would reduce that Council representation substantially.
Plan A would take Benton-Stephens out of the Third Ward, add it to the First Ward, and reduce central city Council representation by one vote. Plan D would take Benton-Stephens out of the Third Ward and the Old Southwest out of the Fourth Ward, consolidating both neighborhoods into the First Ward and reducing central city Council representation by two votes.
Newly-introduced Plan F would take Westmount, the Grasslands, the Old Southwest, Quarry Heights, and Park Hill out of the 4th and 5th Wards and place them into the First Ward, again reducing central city Council representation.
Supporters who have emerged for these plans argue that central city neighborhoods "share" similar characteristics, and so should be grouped. If those characteristics were all milk and honey, that idea might fly. But they aren't.
Others who oppose the consolidation plans know that to get anything done requires a majority of City Council votes.
If central city residents want better stormwater systems, they'll need votes on the Council. If they want better police and fire protection -- without city management seeking to close fire stations in their neighborhoods -- they'll need Council votes. If they want better street lighting, improved code enforcement, or sidewalks for the first time in their history, central city neighbors need Council muscle.
Without it, taxpayer dollars tend toward the newly-developed outskirts of town.
Real change, particularly in a provincially-minded political establishment, also requires the moral authority of a majority. When pundits attack -- as Columbia Daily Tribune publisher Hank Waters did when he personalized the reapportionment debate as a fight between supporters of former Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala and his successor, Gary Kespohl -- only real Council muscle stands a chance of fighting back.
For these reasons, central city neighbors stand rightly opposed to any reapportionment schemes that threaten to reduce their Council representation.
[Ed. Note: The author lives in the Old Southwest.]
-- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat