This week’s essay is an open letter to Mayor Bob McDavid.
It seems pretty clear that you’re going to have to settle the issue of Columbia’s ward reapportionment.
Your six City Council colleagues who represent our existing wards look to be evenly divided, with Fred Schmidt, Helen Anthony and Barbara Hoppe likely to back Trial E, and Jason Thornhill, Gary Kespohl and Daryl Dudley leaning toward or committed to Trial D.
The one uncertainty, among the sources I’ve consulted, was Jason Thornhill, the Realtor who represents the Second Ward. So I called him.
He told me he hasn’t made up his mind, but he’s inclined strongly toward either Trial A or Trial D. He doesn’t like E, he said, because of its impact on his current ward.
Trial A hasn’t drawn much support, so I put him down as a Trial D vote.
It has not escaped your notice, I’m sure, that the council divides on this issue along the progressive/conservative fault line that you’ve successfully straddled.
I’m equally sure you’ve noticed that passions are running high. You didn’t make Daryl Dudley’s session at the public library last Friday, but I can report that the heat in the room that afternoon had nothing to do with the air handling system.
No minds were changed, including mine. I entered the room and left it admiring my councilman for his willingness to engage with his constituents and believing that his steadfast advocacy of Trial D is wrongheaded.
I’m not going to sign the petition to recall him, and I don’t do business with the Atkins companies, so I can’t join the boycott that’s being promoted.
I do, however, urge you to vote for Trial E when the shouting has died down.
Trial D, which was introduced late in the Ward Reapportionment Committee’s deliberations by Rob Monsees, would have the effect of assuring a conservative majority on the City Council for the next decade.
Trial E, which also meets the stated requirements of realignment, would have no such political impact.
You’ve demonstrated in office that you like fact-based decision making. That political impact is the most important fact in this debate.
Councilman Dudley argues that shifting the most progressive voters in Wards 3 and 4 into an enlarged Ward 1 would strengthen the central city’s representation.
His critics wonder how removing the central segments of two other wards could have that effect. Reasonable people can disagree.
There’s no room for disagreement on the arithmetic. The precincts that would be shifted from Ward 3 and Ward 4 are those, and only those, that voted against Councilmen Kespohl and Dudley in the last election and that consistently have the highest progressive or Democratic vote in general elections.
Unlike many of my progressive friends, I don’t question the motives of Mr. Dudley or of Mr. Monsees. To reach my conclusion, I don’t have to, and neither would you. Regardless of motive, the fact is that their proposal would tilt the balance of power on the council and therefore in our community.
That’s gerrymandering. It’s not what ward realignment is intended to do. As the last city election proved, both Wards 3 and 4 are politically competitive now. That’s how they should remain.
One more thing: In science courses and in your medical practice, you’ve encountered the principle of parsimony – that the simplest solution is usually the best. In politics, that’s not always true, but it fits this case.
Trial E, the only map to win majority support on the citizens’ committee, is also the least disruptive. It shifts people from the over-populated Ward 2 into undersized Ward 1. Period.
If you vote for Trial E, Mr. Mayor, the Chamber of Commerce and the so-called development community won’t be happy with you.
Your most engaged constituents will. And it’s the right thing to do.
Sincerely, George Kennedy
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.