Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The balkanization of Toledo

Last night's Toledo City Council meeting gives a glimpse of what could happen in Toledo if we adopt the '9 is Fine' charter amendment proposal (Issue 2 on the primary ballot) and go to all district representation on our council.

Lisa Renee, at Glass City Jungle, has notes from the discussion, but you can listen for yourself here in the discussion over the Kroger store closing resolution.

In trying to be accommodating, council voted to allow comment from some audience members present for the issue. Council does not normally allow comments at their business meetings, as that is usually reserved for committees. And last night shows why.

Instead of addressing the issue of the Kroger store closing, one person from the Lagrange Village Council decided to attack District Councilman Michael Ashford over his representation, or lack thereof, on this issue and in general.

Now, I don't know about Ashford's relationship with the Lagrange Village Council, but I do know I agree with his position on the Kroger store: that it's a logical business decision for the store to make and while he may not like it, he can appreciate the company's position.

But part of the issue that made it into the news coverage of the discussion was that the store was not in Ashford's district.

Now, this wasn't an overwhelming consideration, but it did come up. And it raises the issue of what would happen if Toledo has only district representatives.

I've already spelled out my opposition to the '9 is Fine' charter amendment, including this particular scenario. But here it is - the balkanization of our city - already raising its ugly head...and we haven't even voted on the proposal yet.

I'm in favor of a smaller council and like the idea of an odd number, but I don't want to lose the accountability of seven members of council (my district rep and all at-large members) to have only two (my district rep and the super district rep) or three (add in the other district rep in the super district) directly responsible to me.

The big consideration presented by the supporters is that this measure would provide better geographic representation. While that may be the case - and could be seen as a positive - it is outweighed by the in-fighting we already see over limited capital improvement monies and the attention of city departments to individual district needs. Besides, I'm more interested in attention to issues and diversity of thought than I am in geography. We can mandate people from 1 to 100 districts, but that doesn't give us a balance of perspective, which is what this city so desperately needs.

So remember this when you go to vote in the primary - the problem already exists and Issue 2 will only make it worse.


Dave said...

Many cities have all district councils and are prosperous and forward looking. The balkanization argument is always thrown out there by opponents. Nothing new here.

Maggie Thurber said...

Dave, many cities are prosperous in general while Toledo has not been for - oh, about 40 years.

Additionally, many cities have all at-large councils and are also prosperous and forward looking. So the fact that examples exist on both sides of the argument does nothing at all to strengthen the argument.

Also, saying it's an old argument doesn't explain how Toledo will avoid the situation becoming worse than it already is.

I'm not just presenting a potential scenario, I'm citing existing examples of it already happening.

Note, too, that this is only one argument against the issue - I will lose my ability to vote for 5 members of council, diluting the influence that I as a voter currently have.

And this proposal does nothing for philosophical diversity on council - just geographic.

Besides, do you really think Democrats in Toledo are going to draw districts that 'ensure' a potential for balance of political affiliation? Is so, let me sell you a bridge....

As I've said in the past and continue to stand by: changing our form of government does not ensure that we'll get any difference in the philosophy of said government - it's not the structure that is at fault, it's the people (both voters and electeds).

Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...


I am curious, how many of our so-called "at large" council reps do you think act in the best interests of the entire city now?

I know that there are a few, but to say that all six do is, to me, preposterous.

In my estimation three do and three don't.

Yes, I have worked on the 9 is fine effort, even though I personally favor a 9 district Council.

But, that's because I believe that independent, thinking adults can come together and work with an eye on the bigger picture.

Maggie Thurber said...

Hooda - whether or not those at-large reps do, indeed, work for the best of the city as a whole is the OUTCOME. They are all, still, accountable to me, as a voter, and should want to earn my continued support.

All-district councils do not have to worry whether or not they alienate the other five districts so long as the voters they report to are happy.

That is my main concern with the issue of 'accountability.'

As for the 'outcome' in terms of what they actually do once in office, I go back to my standard: changing the form of government does not ensure that we change the 'philosophy' of those who end up in it.

Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...


"As for the 'outcome' in terms of what they actually do once in office, I go back to my standard: changing the form of government does not ensure that we change the 'philosophy' of those who end up in it."

True enough, but by your standard, maybe we'd be better off with all "at large" reps on Council and regularly weed out those that prove to be non-responsive.

Still, 12 reps, especially these days, is too many in my view, and the "body count" definitely should always be odd.

Maybe 1 rep for every 30-50,000 residents is a better way to approach the size issue...

As you point out, it's not so much whether they are district or "at large" reps, but the quality of their representation.

Maggie Thurber said...

Hooda - I'm on record as supporting a smaller size of council. Like you, I like the idea of an odd number. I wouldn't mind the breakdbown being based upon population, either...though that presents its own issues as Toledo's population declines....

My concern is still the focus on geography and how the districts will be drawn.

Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...


"My concern is still the focus on geography and how the districts will be drawn."

Ah yes, enter the villainess known by one and all as Ms. Gerry Mander...


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