Metro Charter Commission Wrapping Up

The Seals of the City of Memphis and Shelby County

With just two meetings left, the Memphis and Shelby County Metro Charter Commission is wrapping up the proposed charter for submission by August 10th.

Last night the Commission decided on a date for elections. This Thursday they will look at more options for the single member legislative districts. The Commission adopted a 25 member body last week consisting of four three member districts and 13 single member districts. In that meeting, they approved the lines for the four multi-member districts, but concerns about the options on the single member districts tabled that discussion.

While the numbers, if not the specific district lines, of the proposed Metro Council may be decided, I’m interested to see the reaction to the decision of the body. The report produced by MAP Studios was finished on July 16, but copies of the document weren’t made available to the public electronically until July 26, the night the Commission voted on the number and arrangement.

In my view, the number of legislators on the Metro Council is good, but I’m not so sure about the arrangement. The district maps that were adopted by the Metro Charter Commission for the multi-member districts created two predominantly white districts and two predominantly African American districts. This mirrors the arrangement in the Memphis City Council’s Super Districts, twice over.

What’s concerning to me is the rapidly shifting demographics of Shelby County. In the 1990 Census, Shelby County was 55% White. By 2000 that number had shifted to just under 48%. In the 2006-08 survey of Shelby County the white population was estimated at 43.4%. Of course, no one knows what the 2010 census holds, but chances are whites will make up less that 43% of the county population.

This begs the question: Why would the Metro Council adopt a scenario that will likely result in disproportionate representation, at least in the multi member districts, for a declining population? I don’t have an answer, but it basically mirrors what’s happened in the Memphis City Council by ordinance in 1995 which created the Super districts and has a maintained a 7/6 racial split or 54% African American representation in a City whose population in 2000 was 61% African American. Based on this data the City Council should be a lot more like 8/5 than 7/6.

Will the proposed multi-member legislative districts have the same effect? In all likelihood yes, which will ultimately skew the racial makeup of the resulting council just like it does in the Memphis City Council.

Obviously, I recognize that in today’s posts alone I seem to be arguing two different things, but I’m not. I don’t think people do or should vote based solely on race, but I also don’t think the system should be stacked in a way that hampers any legislative body from reflecting the community’s racial breakdown. Of course, I don’t think that was the intent, but it will be the likely effect.

The Commission has a lot to do in its remaining meetings. This may have been a marathon, but now its a sprint to the finish. From what I’ve seen there’s a lot to like about the proposals. How they shake out in the final document will be interesting.

See Also:
Memphis Daily News
MAP Studios Report

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