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Comments of former Councilor Gary Watts

Former Councilor and City Finance Commissioner Gary Watts, who was part of the committee that designed the 1989 City Charter, wrote the following comments, which were read at the Friday, April 7, 2006 meeting of the Citizens' Commission on City Government:

There are so many considerations in determining the best Council set up. We struggled with most considerations in 1988. Because we didn't want to go to the trouble to change to a mayor/council form of government and then be challenged for a voting rights violation, we were advised that we needed to have enough single member districts to assure minority representation. We also didn't want to have a large number of councilors and the lousy dynamics that a large group brings (leadership control, party line voting, etc.). So nine was the smallest odd number that would assure compliance with the voting rights act. We have now had nine councils elected of which I served on five. Every District has produced strong councilors who were motivated to serve for the right reasons. Many Districts have produced councilors who have been more about narrow agendas and egos than the good of the city, and these have come from north, south, east and west. City Hall lore has many stories of lousy city commissioners who were elected at large, so I am convinced that at large representation will not improve overall quality. The election Tuesday appears to have produced a good council, time will tell, but it appears the system has worked to provide needed changes. Unlike the campaign dynamics of at large elections, which are much about money, several council elections showed that person to person contact, grass roots campaigning is an effective way to win a seat, more so than spending money. I think that is a very good thing. A truly strong mayor can find many ways to instill a city wide spirit among councilors. The one area I've observed where district representation can become a significant problem is with zoning decisions. We need to be sure that councilors vote their independent position on zoning and not "defer" to the councilor whose district is affected. To date mayors have remained clear of most such battles, but that does not have to be the case. I don't believe our form of government is broken; those who want to fix it would help our community much more by advocating for improvement of municipal services, matters of substance like public transportation, rather than chasing charter change because one Council out of nine became disfunctional.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 10, 2006 5:51 PM.

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