The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

13 September 2004

All of the people, all of the time

A cousin of mine has informed me that she's been asked to run for the City Council in Austin, Texas, which prompted me to check out the way they run things in the City of the Violet Crown.

Turns out that Austin has a council-manager form of government, something I'm familiar with, but there's a twist: all six of the council members are elected at large. Which means that whatever power base she's built up in her section of town (just north of the University) doesn't mean a whole lot, since she's got to make her pitch to the entire city of 650,000.

I admit to being unable to understand why this is supposed to be a Good Thing. If each of the council members represents the whole city, why do they need six of them? The traditional complaint about ward representation, as used in Oklahoma City and more recently in Tulsa, has been that it encourages members of the council to think about neighborhood needs rather than the needs of the city as a whole, but the fact remains: neighborhoods do have different needs. Residents of Balcones Drive in northwest Austin don't necessarily have the same concerns as residents of Springdale Road on the east side.

There is, of course, a practical limit to how far down you can scale these things. I live in Ward 2 in Oklahoma City, which extends roughly from NW 23rd to NW 122nd, from Broadway to Portland, excluding areas adjacent to the Lake Hefner Parkway. This ward is currently represented by Sam Bowman, who lives in the Cleveland neighborhood, north of 23rd and east of May, at the southern end of the ward. It would be disingenuous to argue that everyone in Ward 2 is dealing with the same set of issues. But were we using at-large voting here, we'd have to guess which of the council members might be most interested in our problems if we wanted something done; as it stands, we take our problems to Sam Bowman.

And truth be told, I don't know how well a neighborhood activist like my cousin, who is used to hearing from a few hundred folks on a regular basis, will take to having more than half a million breathing down her neck.

Posted at 11:03 AM to Political Science Fiction