Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Single Member Districts In Action

There has been a lot of talk recently in Richardson favoring amending the City Charter to replace at-large council member elections with single member districts (and by "lot of talk" I mean an odd voice or two crying in the wilderness, and by "wilderness" I mean some place like San Antonio).

Dallas already has single member districts. How's that working out? After the jump, Jim Schutze, in Unfair Park, gives us a look. The issue is flood control in East Dallas.

According to a story by Schutze, Dallas's City Manager says that Dallas needs to dig a $300 million tunnel, "an underground river, in effect -- to carry rain water from big storms out of an old part of the city in East Dallas, Uptown and near downtown." If it doesn't, Dallas will have to "abandon it as an unsafe slum."

How did the Dallas City Council react? Did they consider Dallas as a unified community, where the health of the whole depends on the survival of each of its neighborhoods? That is, did the Dallas council members look at flood control in old East Dallas like a "bypass operation for an aging heart," as Schutze put it? Or did the council divide along district lines, each member sticking up for his or her own district? Schutze reads the body language:
At the briefing where the idea was unveiled, North Dallas council member Ann Margolin seemed a little antsy about it. I watched. She wasn't out-and-out negative, but I think you could see the wheels turning:

No photo op. Nothing for North Dallas. All this money for a sewer for the old part of town. Hmm.
Source: Unfair Park.
Notice that the presumed assessment of the benefits of this project are not based on what's best for the city as a whole, but what's in it for my district in North Dallas. Schutze has no more confidence in the council members from Oak Cliff or southern Dallas acting in the best interest of the city as a whole.

The political challenges in Richardson pale in comparison to those of Dallas. Dallas has single member districts exactly because its racial and ethnic divisions along geographic lines made it difficult to elect a council that could be representative of the city as a whole. Richardson doesn't have those divisions. We shouldn't artificially inject such divisions into Richardson by switching to a system of single member districts.


glbeach said...

Well said!

Nathan Morgan said...


You would be a fool to deny the faction that imposes its will on the Richardson City Council. It is no secret that the seat of political power rests in the lap of the north west quadrant, having emissaries throughout the rest of the town. This heavy hand is the cause the neglect and consequential blight now suffered by the lesser neighborhoods. It is also the cause for the financial incentives given to pet projects that will deny financial resources for years to come.

The difference between Dallas and Richardson is that there are truly independent representatives of the districts. Unfortunately, the City of Dallas has no better track record in electing Council members than does Richardson. Neither is a bastion of truth, justice and the American way.

In Richardson, corruption has resulted in a market of trading campaign support and political favors for Council votes on any given initiative. The Richardson Coalition, formerly The Friends of Richardson, has ways of punishing those who do not comply.

Dallas City Council members are beholden to the constituents of the District from which they were elected. Not so in Richardson. If any District in Richardson, say 1 or 3 had issues of concern they wanted addressed immediately, they would be compelled to stand in line behind those sanctioned by powerful special interests groups.

A glaring example of the harm caused by the railroad mentality in Richardson is plainly clear in the impending debacle over the insufficient bond revenues to finish out the Heights Recreation Center, Aquatic Center and the Gymnastic Center projects.

No sir. I don't think there would be as much of a disparity between Richardson neighborhoods if representation was set on a level playing field across the Districts. Single member Districts is one sure way to assure the demands of residents in their respective Districts are addressed in an equally timely manner.

By the way, there are many places better to live than Richardson. What is it that you and Willy like so much about San Antonio?