Shea Flinn is one of my Super-District Councilors, and he’s one of my favorites. 99 times out of 100, he is on the correct side of issues and I will certainly support him for re-election next year.
That said, he is as wrong as wrong can be on the issue of districts for a proposed Metro Government Commission.
Bill Dries starts his article on Flinn’s appearance before the Metro Charter Commission innocently enough:
With a week off for the Fourth of July holiday, Metro Charter Commissioners have a break before diving into one of the more political decisions they will make.
What size should a metro legislative body be and how many districts should a metro council have?
Oh boy. I was reading along enjoying the aeticle when I found THIS:
Memphis City Council member Shea Flinn warned against an all district council or a council that doesn’t have something like the super districts the council has or the multi-position districts the Shelby County Commission has.
“Politics warps everything,” he told the charter group.
The discussion is where “art meets the science of politics beyond the theater of campaigning to actual governance,” Flinn said.
“It just forces the micro view on everything,” Flinn said of the influence of single member council districts.
“There is so much parochialism that comes up through it,” he said citing the council’s recently completed budget deliberations. “Out of fear that something will be cut from their district, they’re not going to let anything be cut from anyone else’s district. … The only people in those debates willing to even discuss the issue were the super district representatives. By their population base … we’re forced to take a broader look – a big picture.”
Ah yes, the MICRO view. You mean the one that each neighborhood takes, Shea? In the places most affected by your decisions? Whatever happened to bringing government closer to the people? I understand Flinn is a super-district councilor, and might not be thrilled to see his position eliminated in a Metro Government, But really, Shea?
Look, I am not opposed to a concept that includes at-large districts, as long as they are REALLY at-Large, where the entire county would vote for five out of a large pool; that makes sense. But the vast majority of seats on any Metro Commission should be districts, and the smaller the better. Why, do you ask?
1) Smaller, walkable districts brings the election CLOSER to each district, and candidates can walk them; it will require LESS money to ruin for Council, meaning we are more likely to get people not beholden to developers with $$$$. (No, I am NOT inferring that Flinn is like that; he is, if anything, the OPPOSITE, as independent as they come, which makes this doubly frustrating).
Don’t believe me? OK, let me break out the writings of Steve Ross from his other blog, Vibinc:
Shelby County is the largest county in Tennessee, both geographically and by population. There are many counties in the state that have legislative bodies that are the same size or smaller than ours, but there are also some like Weakley County, with a population of just over 33k has 18 Commissioners over 9 districts, and they’re not dealing with the area, population, or economy that Memphis has. The second largest county in the state, Davidson, has been a metro government since the 60’s. Their population is 70% of ours, their land mass is 66%, and their Government has some 40 council members, 35 of which are single member districts.
It doesn’t take a math wiz to figure out that the people of Nashville, and Weakley County for that matter, have more direct representation than the people of Shelby Co. In Nashville, there is one Council member for every 18,000 citizens. Compare that to Memphis, 1:96K or Shelby Co., 1:70k.
And, Ross addresses one of Flinn’s concerns here:
But more direct representation isn’t necessarily a panacea. The Metro Council is fragmented. There are just 5 members that represent the entirety of Davidson Co. (12.5% of the Council). This means that getting things done for the good of the overall community can be more difficult due to a “what’s in it for my neighborhood” mentality. Lobbying for a project or something, like the non-discrimination ordinance that recently passed, requires interest groups to mobilize more broadly, and be more politically savvy than they might have been with a smaller council.
See? It’s not impossible to get something done, it just makes interest groups work a little bit harder for what they do, and that is NOY a bad thing.
However, leave it to my Commissioner, Steve Mulroy, who also spoke before the Metro Commission, to bring things back into perspective:
“I think that you need to strike a balance between single member districts and multi member districts,” Mulroy told The Daily News. “I’m not opposed to having some multi member districts. I think the emphasis should be on single member districts.”
Mulroy added that he is not rejecting all of the points made by Flinn.
“I can see there’s some merit to what he was saying. The trade off is the more multi member districts you have, the larger the single member districts have to be,” Mulroy said. “The harder it then is for people to have constituent representative contact. And then the harder it is for new candidates to break into the political system. That’s the trade off.”
Flinn argues back:
Flinn is adamant that single member district council members on his body are about the politics of bringing in projects for their constituents from parks to roads.
“They don’t care. They just want their district to be taken care of. That’s not a knock on them,” Flinn told the Metro Charter Commission last month. “That’s there job. That’s good legislation. But if all you have is single member districts, all it becomes is horse trading.. You don’t close my library and I won’t close yours.”
Um, that’s what they’re SUPPOSED to DO. Mulroy then finishes off the argument:
Mulroy counters that his experience since winning a seat on the county commission in 2002 is that parochialism isn’t that much of a factor. He said 90 percent of the issues both legislative bodies grapple with are county-wide or city-wide.
“I never did see that as being that big of an issue,” Mulroy said of parochialism. “It certainly wasn’t for me. … I didn’t see it happening as much or with as much force as Councilman Flinn said that it happened on the city council side.”
I don’t like going after people I support, but Flinn is just flat-out wrong here, and if we DO manage to create a Metro Government this fall, it needs to have a minimum of 25 seats on the Commission, with 19-20 of them being Districts. For me personally, if they just try and create a mish-mosh of the Council and Commission jammed together, I will vote NO.