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Saturday, February 28, 2009

My continued civics education . . .

. . . and I got dinner served to me at the same time.  Civilized indeed.

Last night's meeting was a continuation of the meeting I attended last month which sprang from Organize for America.

The good news is we have a very solid political grassroots action group rolling along!

The challenge?  Somewhat like what happened last spring within the Democratic Party, we have a lot of strong personalities with different agendas.  While the group is well aware of this, the act of merging everyone's passions into one united goal will be a delicate one.

First up was reports from those in the gathering who had attended the City Council meeting earlier this month and had done some research and follow up to see if the issues addressed were going to be on an upcoming Council meeting agenda.

Long story short: City Council meetings are not ongoing dialogues between Council Members and the city's citizens.  The only way a citizen's agenda gets folded into the Council Meeting's agenda is by having City Hall staff bring agenda items to the City Manager who will add it onto an upcoming agenda.

So, the easy way of affecting change just slammed into a brick wall.

To have any hope of affecting change, the group agreed that efforts need to be grown outside of the city's political structure (perhaps the word "grassroots" in the group's title should have been a clue).  To that end, with City Council elections scheduled for April 2010, the group will find others in the city who are trying to cultivate Council candidates (our group has three people who are "exploring" a run for the council).  There are either two or three of the five seats on the Council open in 2010.  My bet is we will have to whittle down many more candidates to find the best two or three to run "as a slate".

If the various progressive-leaning groups in our city can come together, we all stand a better chance of having our ideas represented on the Council (as it stands now, clearly none of the Council Members has any interest in doing things differently) once our candidates are elected to the Council.

Nothing like having your own pipeline to the Council to get your agenda added to the Council's business.

Now, the great big fallen tree in the middle of the road:  How to upset the status quo and change the Council's composition from representation of the largest voter block to representation of the city's entire population?

Right now, the Council oversees the city "at large" -- all five members address the entire city's issues.  While running candidates "on a slate" gives us a better chance at changing the Council, there is no guarantee that any or all of our candidates will win the election.  So, we discussed how best to change the "at large" to a district system.  

In an attempt to illustrate how "at large" elections versus election by district could change the composition of a Council, here's a couple of home-made pie charts.  Whip cream and/or a la mode optional:

I'll confess these charts are oversimplifications.  There is also the issue of drawing up districts to begin with (who decides how to this and how often) and gerrymandering is also a concern.  However, continuing the city governing structure as is assures that nothing gets changed.

Changing the city to district representation could get done either by ballot initiative or by suing the city to coerce change by insisting the current construct does not fairly represent the city's residents.  No harm in pursuing both avenues at the same time and we have many other cities to use as a model for how to successfully district the city.

We meet again at the end of March.  It still amazes me how much things appear to be changing in such a short amount of time, by political standards.  Regardless of how all these efforts turn out, watching and participating in the process is helping me understand how a government works (or does not, in some cases) and will let me experience just how much change people are willing to accept.

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