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Panel still lacks consensus on changing Council representation

Thursday, January 12, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Charter Revision Committee continued its struggle with single-member districts last Thursday night. Though committee members expressed overwhelming support for a switch from the  at-large system, there was an almost even split on whether that shift should be to a system of districts based strictly on geography, or whether it should include some at-large members.


Seven committee members spoke in favor of some type of hybrid system, and six advocated for a strictly district-based system. Members of the public who spoke to the committee spoke overwhelmingly in favor of a 10-1 plan.


Committee Member Ken Rigsbee stated that he would not vote for either plan, and Chair Gonzalo Barrientos kept his opinion to himself. Barrientos told In Fact Daily that he supported single-member districts, and in terms of supporting a specific plan would be making an announcement “very soon.”


Mayor Lee Leffingwell paid a visit to the committee, starting off the discussion with a plea for compromise, saying, “I think what is important is that all of us that support geographic representation be on the same page, because if we’re divided in our effort here, the chances are that no system, as we move forward, will pass.”


Voters have historically had concerns with single-member districts, voting six times previously against a change from the at-large system.


Consultant David Butts, a member of the committee, echoed his concerns. He said that politics is, essentially, about “simple math.” Butts stated that 35 to 40 percent of voters will vote against any change, making such a big switch an uphill battle.


“My personal judgment is that if we go to voters with this system that goes from an all at-large to an all single-member district system… and also increase the size of the Council from seven to 11, we run a substantial risk of losing that election,” said Butts.


“I think we should make the transition to a modified system, the middle path. Because I think the voters would accept the middle path,” said Butts. “There are all kinds of solutions and proposals if we are reasonable about it. Now, if we want to be unreasonable about it, what we are likely to wind up with is nothing except what we have, which I think would be a tragedy.”


Fred Cantu spoke strongly in favor of the 10-1 plan, saying his community has long-needed more representation, “We have been fighting this fight for a long time, and we deserve more than one member on Council right now. If you don’t pay attention to us now, we will see you in court.”


The committee will not vote on their recommendation to City Council until at least February.


“We need geographic representation. I don’t think that there’s much disagreement that there will be some form of geographic representation recommended coming out of this committee. While I appreciate the passion and emotion opposing an all at-large system, that’s not really a consideration,” said committee member Richard Jung.

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