Since some folks decided that we need to study and perhaps revise the City Charter again (it was just done in 2004, and updated last month), I thought it would be worthwhile to really study the political history of Oak Ridge.
First of all, what did districts look like in Oak Ridge? Not surprisingly, they looked a lot like our current precinct structure… except that we had a couple extra precincts then that we don’t have now, and we’ve added a couple that we didn’t have back then. "Elm Grove" is now part of Glenwood, "Linden" is split between Robertsville and West Hills, and Oak Hills is now its own precinct — the city’s largest. Hendrix Creek is made up of neighborhoods that didn’t exist back then, as is Lawnville (Rarity Ridge). Cedar Hill was later split between Glenwood and Pine Valley, I think.
If that’s as clear as mud, perhaps a map would help.
Council members were elected only in the districts they represented from 1959 to 1974. From 1975 to 1986, council members were nominated by district (required to live in the district), but were elected at-large by voters citywide.
A couple of things caught my attention from those years: in the earliest phase, some candidates were elected to make decisions affecting the whole city with only a minimum number of votes — one with as few as 117, and quite a few with less than 200. In the second phase, where district representatives were elected at-large, sometimes the candidate who won his or her district did not win the confidence of voters throughout the city, and someone else was elected to represent that district.
Presently, we don’t have districts. Candidates run at-large, and the top three or four vote getters (depending on which cycle of staggered terms we’re in) are elected. All are elected at-large, all represent all citizens. On a positive note, if I call one city council member and don’t feel like my concern was given fair consideration, I can pick up the phone and call another one. And another. We get to pick the one we like best, not necessarily the one who lives closest.
Obviously, I think the present system works best. I don’t see how makng it easier to elect someone with fewer votes could possibly be a good thing for Oak Ridge. But I do remain interested in why some people feel unrepresented, and exactly what they would like our representatives to do differently.