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Amending Democracy

An essay by attorney Mike Hackett on the at-large councilor proposal:

As an attorney who was involved in the voting rights lawsuit 18 years ago and represented a number of homeowner associations in the Tulsa area, I would like to offer some observations about the petition seeking to change the city council form of government by reducing the number of districts and adding 3 at-large councilors.

I think this is an ill-advised and undemocratic proposal that will be harmful to Tulsa. It will not only dilute minority and neighborhood representation on the council, but, more importantly, the petition will effectively create 4 power centers or power brokers, if you will, the Mayor and the 3 at-large councilors. In many respects it will recreate the old city commission system, whose members normally lived within the same part of town.

Tulsa voters rejected this more parochial form of government, as they have at-large councilors before, when they opted for voting districts determined only by balanced population. Tulsans recognized in the process, that some parts of the city deserved a voice in government they had historically been denied.

Neighborhoods and property owners throughout the city should have a say in the decisions at City Hall just as much as business and corporate groups. Decisions about whether a toll bridge should be constructed; outlying areas annexed; and housing and commercial development more equally distributed are issues representatives closest to their constituents should help decide, not just those from a certain part of town.

The current problems stem primarily from a lack of strong leadership by both the Mayor and certain members of the City Council. Democracy can be messy at times, whether at the national or local level. The solution, however, is not to amend the council form and adopt what will, again, be an unrepresentative system, but to elect candidates who will exercise common sense and will work effectively with others.

Real democracy means that everyone's vote in an election for their representative will count equally, and that every councilor's vote will have equal weight, so that all parts of the City will be equally represented. The changes proposed in the petition destroy the inherent equality in the existing district election process.

I would urge Tulsans either not sign the petition or reject the changes it proposes, if it comes to a vote. This is a step back, not a step forward for Tulsans.

W. Michael Hackett


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