Monday, January 16, 2012

A Barn Raising in Southwest Richardson

In recent posts, I reviewed the City of Richardson's system of representation by at-large elections of its seven city council members. In one post, I pointed out how Dallas's city council (elected in single-member districts) was likely to divide on the issue of a $300 million flood control project that would be of most benefit to only a portion of the city. In another post, I pointed out how Richardson's city council (elected at-large) had pulled together on the West Spring Valley Corridor Reinvestment Strategy that will be of most benefit to only a portion of the city.

David Chenoweth responds in a long post on his own blog titled "Logic, Absurdity and Single Member Districts." I can't tell for sure, but I feel like he thinks his post supplies the "logic" and mine the "absurdity." [Update: Chenoweth clarifies that he was not referring to me or my argument as absurd. I regret the false conclusion on my part.]

After the jump, a brief look at his "logic."

Chenoweth starts out reasonably enough:
The main argument for single member districts where the voting is done at large is that more of the representative represent more people and will not only represent just a small section of the people. The argument seems to be that this is a better system for the whole as opposed to just representation of multiple small groups that would pit one neighborhood against another.

But then he immediately goes off track:
So, let go with that thought, the needs of the many should be attended to and have a higher priority than the needs of particular groups of people.

Once off track, Chenoweth eventually ends up in the land of black helicopters:
But why stop here. What we really need is a One World Government to make sure and take care of the needs of everyone in the world, giving no preference to those who might be more adept at making more for themselves than others, and thereby ensure an equal outcome for all. All people are created equally, so why not mandate an equal outcome for all as well?

Let's pull back and refocus on the challenge of getting things done back here in Richardson.

Where in Chenoweth's first, reasonable summary of the argument is anyone arguing that the needs of the many should have higher priority than the needs of particular groups of people? On the contrary, my two examples were both cases focused on the needs of particular groups of people. In the case of residents of old East Dallas, their needs are at risk of not being met because of divisions on the Dallas city council caused by single-member districts. On the other hand, in the case of residents near Richardson's West Spring Valley corridor, their needs are getting attention in part because Richardson has a council based on at-large districts. The question is which form of government -- single-member districts or at large elections -- is more likely to result in the council majorities needed to effect positive change?

It's the old barn-raising model of community growth. Everyone gets together to help a farmer raise his new barn, knowing that when their own turn comes, there will be community help for them, too. Single-member districts don't preclude having that community spirit; they just make it harder to thrive. That's because single-member districts aren't designed to get good things done; rather, they are designed to stop the majority from doing bad things to the minority. On the other hand, at-large elections foster that community spirit. Every candidate must appeal to every neighborhood to get elected. By everyone helping everyone else, the community as a whole benefits.

So, why don't at-large elections work everywhere? Because they don't work where the community has geographic divisions -- racial, ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic -- that work against that community spirit. If everyone gets his barn raised in a community effort except that African-American farmer or that Hispanic farmer across the creek, the model breaks down. That's the problem in the City of Dallas, in Dallas County, in Texas, in the United States, and in the world as a whole. Those geographic divisions aren't there in Richardson (see the demographic information in that earlier post). Let's not do something likely to create geographic divisions, like adopt single-member districts.


dc-tm said...

Mark, I am truly sorry you thought I might have been referring to you, your argument or point of view as being absurd. It was not the “absurd” I was referring to. Rather, my implication was the absurdity was the extending of at-large elections and its principals to what I thought might be a logic conclusion, from the lowest level, HOA/NA to highest level, one world government. The basic premise and benefit of al-large elections has been stated to mean that those elected city wide, and not elected by only voters in a particular district, will not be beholden to only those in the district they are from and as a result will look for the best for the city as a whole, not just to a small group within that city. Have a good day.

Mark Steger said...

David, thanks for the clarification. For the record, I've never advocated against HOAs or for One World Government.

Nathan Morgan said...

I could not help but wonder about your logic suggesting that attempts to rehabilitate Spring Valley after decades of neglect benefited only that area.

Long known as the south side of Richardson, this gateway to the city began going downhill when Telecom Corridor companies failed or found better places to locate. Soon after,
"adult only" apartments were renting to extended families and the schools began loading up with ESL students.

The neglect began, but did not end on Spring Valley. Meanwhile, Richardson city leaders had decided and built the City Hall complex across Central Expressway and up on Arapaho Road. The police and fire departments expanded into the vacated old municipal buildings. This move effectively killed the old down town and began the long period of land flips and infrastructure decline that now characterizes the landscape and the windshield view. Just like an old junk yard or toxic waste site, abandonment left buildings, streets, sewers and curb appeal to grow over and decay over the years.

Then, City leaders engaged the Palasades, Campbell interscetion and Galatyn Park developments. For the next 20-30 years the focus of economic development efforts would neglect the aging south in favor of the pristine, undeveloped north side. Council members banded together and methodically approved grants, loans, abatements and other give aways to developers that now starve the City coffers of maintenance, repair and replacement funds for the aging areas.

A series of colossal planning failures occurred. Myopic focus on a single industry, Telecom, nearly turned Richardson into the Detroit of Texas when the industry collapsed in the late 1990's.

Blind, desperate attempts by town leaders to diversify the city's corporate residents lured Richardson into another catastrophe, the CountryWide deal and the housing market collapse. Preoccupied with disaster control, these, along with a handful of other economic planning blunders, contributed to the neglect and decline of the southern sector of Richardson.

There is little doubt that a single member district structure, whereby Council members are elected solely by the residents of a single District may have mitigated the municipal dysfunction in which Richardson now suffers.

The neglect south Richardson now suffers as a consequence of Council members banding together to focus the city's limited resources on feeding the developments on the north side is a direct result of at-large elections.

The projects funded on the north side did little to improve, or even maintain, the living standard of residents on the south.

dc-tm said...

In response to Nathan summary of events, it was not the city council that has done things to improve SW Richardson. Barry Hand, Andrew Laska and a few others led them to the proposed improvements and pretty much shamed the council into actions. Had it not been Barry, Andrew and a few other leading the charge, most likely nothing would have been done. That make a good argument for single member districts in this instance.