Tuesday, April 23, 2013

GOP Passed Up Chance for Real Reform

The proponents of Senate Bill 621 say that the City-County Council of Indianapolis and Marion County is bloated and too big.  The remedy the bill provides is to remove the four seats that are elected at-large and keep 25 district council seats.

Going into the 2015 election, this would tilt the balance of the Council to a 14-11 Republican majority because Democrats hold all four of the At-Large City County Council seats.  The Democrats would need to pick up three two seats to retake the Council, and that would be in new districts.  The Republicans drew the new districts as they were adopted.  Much is at stake in getting rid of the four At-Large Council seats.

If size is the problem, it appears that Senator Mike Young's Senate Bill 621 is aiming too small and targeting the wrong seats.  My research shows that plenty of large cities have seats elected to city councils in an at-large manner.  Some cities don't even have districts.

Here's what my research showed.  I took a look at the cities in Indianapolis' neighborhood both geographically and in common size.  It does appear that Young is right.  Indy's legislative body is bloated.

Most of the cities that I researched have city councils ranging in size from seven to 19 seats.  Of these, there was a mixed bag of government forms.  Some cities have an appointed manager that takes care of the day-to-day operation of the city with oversight from the elected at-large mayor and district city councillors.  Other cities prefer smaller numbers of councillors and a strong executive, but they aren't afraid to have some at-large representation.  Let's look at some specifics.

Jacksonville has 19 councillors.  Fourteen are elected from a district.  Five are elected at-large from a residency district but represent the entire city at-large.  Austin has six councillors.  The Mayor of Austin is elected at-large and serves on the Council.  A city manager runs the city.  San Jose has 10 councillors elected by district.  The Mayor is elected at large but sits on the Council. Again, a manager runs the city. San Diego has nine councillors elected by district. Columbus, Ohio has seven.  Cincinnati has nine members on its City Council, and they are all elected at-large.  Boston has nine district members and four at-large seats.

Those are just a handful of cities that I looked up.  If you look at the results, there's not one magic answer here.  Each of those cities have forms of government that have worked for them for many years.

It would seem to me from my research that perhaps in Indianapolis' case that the four at-large seats are not necessarily the problem.  When you have a council with 25 seats, perhaps it's time to look at reducing and combining those and making larger districts with more constituents.  Even Abdul-Hakim Shabazz agreed with this idea.  He suggested making the City-County Council a full-time gig and reducing the size significantly.

Indianapolis, however, is being told that 25 is the right size by the Indiana General Assembly.  Legislators from all over the state say that they know what's best for us here in Marion County.

Republicans had a chance to push this to a summer conference committee.  The Indianapolis Star reported that a six-hour marathon meeting in the Senate came up with Mike Young saying that was not going to happen.  Senate Bill 621 is going to move forward, and it's likely going to pass.  I just say that no one should forget this moment.  No one should forget this debate.

Be ready to remind your friends and neighbors what happened at the Statehouse this session when Republicans had a chance to make a difference in real government reform, but the took the political way out.

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