The Charter Question

“It has been my observation that structures of city government change in times of economic or social unrest."— Arthur J. Holland, Mayor of Trenton NJ for 26 years

Although the question of district vs. at-large representation was a weighty factor in the 2003 Charter Commission races, with those favoring district representation mostly on the losing side, our petition-happy citizens have mustered the signatures to bring the issue up anew on the November ballot.

I was getting bored with the presidential campaign anyway.

That Oak Ridge is in a time of economic unrest is obvious; the social unrest is harder to define, but it’s there.  That the two are intrinsically related is also apparent, since the clamor for change tends to rise from a resistance to higher taxes coupled with a pent-up demand for additional services.  Both of those are due to inadequate growth in the tax base (or shrinkage, in the case of sales taxes).

Would district representation result in our economy growing at a healthier rate?  Would the citizens be more open to allowing the investments needed to expand our retail offerings?  I don’t see how.

But, would district representation encourage political trade-offs, like agreeing to fund a police substation in one neighborhood only in exchange for a new park in another?  Very likely.  Would district representation limit the choices for our City Council?  Most definitely.

Nationally, the argument for district representation is usually  to ensure greater minority representation, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem in Oak Ridge.  African-Americans constitute about 8% of Oak Ridgers as of the 2000 Census; with two of seven Council members, they currently hold 28% representation.  So that’s not the problem.

Persons over age 65 were 21% of our population on the 2000 Census.  I’m not certain whether that group might be under-represented (not knowing the exact ages of all Council members), but we all know that people over 65 have a higher rate of voter participation, so it seems like Council would be fairly attentive to their needs.

Before you bring up the wish for a new Senior Center, refer to the economic unrest previously mentioned.  We just don’t have the money.

Folks, Oak Ridge is not such a metropolis that we can’t know people in neighborhoods other than our own.  It was a wise Council and populace who changed our form of government from 12 districted representatives to 7 at-large decades ago; let’s not go backward.

We do not need a charter change — we need to get on the same page about improving our economy and get busy.

4 thoughts on “The Charter Question

  1. Although it is no big deal to me, most cities have some form of district and at large representation. As for the seniors, many do get out and vote. Perhaps others, who don’t get out and vote,(they are usually a majority of voters)could have their way if they did so.

  2. I’d have to look up the link again to cite it, but data compiled for the National League of Cities indicates that sixty-some percent of cities with a council-manager form of government (like ours) use at-large representation.

  3. I’m sure there’s an “Ape” behind the clipboard of this project. Oddly enough, no one ever asked me for my opinion, but then again, I work for a living during the daytime hours.

    The core of negativity is out there lurking around. Perhaps it’s OUR turn to just “VOTE NO”…

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