Friday, November 11, 2011

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: Push for larger City Council, Part 2

Plan to add members and at-large seats makes for most unusual joint venture
 
COLUMBIA, 11/11/11 (Op-Ed) -- David Webber started the Council configuration discussion in an October 16 Columbia Tribune editorial, arguing against wards represented by a single person, and arguing for a larger City Council with more "at large" or city-wide representation. 
 
"Single member districts invite gerrymandering," Webber wrote. "At-large elections would serve the city of Columbia quite well, just as they do the Columbia public school district."

An enlarged, at-large City Council may have its advantages, but critics argue that it would drive the cost of running a campaign through the roof, putting the entire Council into the hands of monied special interests. Council seats can't be compared to school board positions, they add, because the special interests and economic stakes at City Hall are so much greater. 
 
They point to the 2010 Mayoral race -- the Council's only at-large seat -- where candidates raised more than $100,000.
 
Eventual victor Bob McDavid, M.D. outspent his closest opponent, Jerry Wade, Ph.D. nearly 2 to 1. McDavid's largest donations came from some of the very monied interests -- developer Tom Atkins gave McDavid over $2,300 -- that worry opponents of at-large Council seats.
 
"Hold your horses, bedfellows," say other Visioning Committee members, who received an Oct. 30 email blast from Clark urging the original 21-member group re-convene to discuss their "unanimous decision" to endorse increasing the size of the City Council.

"It is interesting that the four of you 'remember' unanimous support for something I did not support," fellow Visioning group member Mahree Skala emailed Clark, his new partners, and the other Visioning members. "I have never supported increasing the size of the council, or the creation of more members-at-large...Our report says nothing about the addition of at-large members."
 
Skala also reiterated the big contributions concern. "At-large elections in a city this size require big money for media buys, and would disadvantage ordinary citizens seeking these offices in favor of those with deep pockets, or friends with deep pockets," she wrote.

Some internal squabbling between the partnership of Grossman, Schuster, Clark, and Webber may slow the horsemen, regardless. After Grossman sent a request "that we be put on the pre-council agenda or the council agenda or both," Clark worried that he was jumping the gun.

"I am disappointed that anyone has contacted the Council or scheduled appearances before or with the Council without a prior meeting of the Governance Committee," Clark emailed. "Larry, please cancel the meetings, presentations, etc. that you have already scheduled with the Council."
 
Imagine that: John Clark telling Larry Grossman what to do. Washington politics ain't got nothin' on Columbia. 
 

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