Scarcity is much in the news as we plunge into our season of excess. We’re lacking affordable housing, available jobs and even causes of optimism. That’s not intended to be a comprehensive list.
Something that’s never in short supply, however, is bad ideas.
One of those was just passed into law by our City Council. Another would alter the very composition of the council. Let’s take a quick look.
At their meeting last week, our council members – their wits no doubt dulled by the hours of public testimony on both sides of the Regency mobile home park rezoning – changed the law to permit skates and skateboards to be ridden on the public streets, even downtown.
This cockamamie idea is promoted by the well-intentioned folks who want to get us out of our cars and into healthier forms of transportation. It’s an idea that seems a lot more attractive in the abstract, or in the council chamber, than it looks on the actual street.
I submit that kids on skateboards mixing with cars and buses are accidents waiting to happen. Why we’d want to encourage those accidents as a matter of public policy is one of many things I just don’t understand.
Another mystery to me is why we should elect some or all of our council members citywide rather than by wards as we do now. Oh, it’s clear enough why the Chamber of Commerce and the big developers would prefer that. To see why, just recall our last two local elections.
In 2010, the Chamber endorsed and the big money got behind Bob McDavid, running citywide for mayor. He outspent Jerry Wade more than 2-to-1 and won handily.
In 2011, the Chamber endorsed and the big money got behind Glen Ehrhardt in the Fifth Ward. The progressive candidate, Helen Anthony, ran a very smart, very local campaign and beat him.
The argument in favor of at-large council seats has two parts, as I understand it. The first, and more plausible, is that people elected citywide are more likely to take a broad perspective on citywide issues. The other I’ve seen advanced is that single-member districts encourage gerrymandering.
As to the first argument, I simply ask that you search the records for instances in which council members elected by ward have voted against the interest of the city as a whole.
Sure, they sometimes differ as to just what is really in the city’s interest. But I try to watch their actions fairly carefully, and I can’t think of any examples of excessive parochialism. (Wrong-headedness, sure. See the skateboard decision. But unanimous wrong-headedness.)
As to the second argument, it’s true that we’ve just seen an attempted gerrymander. The perpetrators were the same folks who favor at-large elections. In the end, however, the ward-chosen council spurned the attempt.
Representation by ward, on the other hand, gives us the kind of attention to neighborhood interests that we should want and expect from our elected rulers.
Would Barbara Hoppe have devoted so much effort and emotion to the plight of the Regency renters if they weren’t her Sixth Ward constituents, and hers alone? Would Daryl Dudley have tried so valiantly to bridge the gap between birders and bikers if that Audubon tract weren’t in his Fourth Ward?
It seems clear to me that at-large campaigns would inevitably diminish that kind of attention to neighborhood-specific issues while driving up the cost of politics and favoring candidates with access to the most money.
The analogy that’s been drawn to the Columbia School Board is false. The board doesn’t rezone or annex or decide who pays the cost of infrastructure. The developers aren’t against good schools. They just don’t want to pay their fair share of the costs of growth.
Now, if you think I’m right about the skateboard issue, call your council member while you still have one.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.