Imagine you lived in a city carved up into little wards or districts. Then imagine that your city council members are given “discretionary” funds to dole out for “projects” or to fix potholes and street lights. It sounds like Chicago, New York, or Washington, D.C. Well if Jake Day is elected to the Salisbury City Council, this is what he has in store for you.
Across the sea in Great Britain, they used to have “rotten” or “pocket” boroughs. These were parliamentary constituencies (districts to us Yanks) that were, in effect, controlled by one person (or a small group of people). The British wisely changed their election practices in the 19th century.
At last month’s Democrat Club meeting Mr. Day announced that if he was elected he (along with councilwomen Laura Mitchell and Shanie Shields) would re-visit re-districting and change the council to a seven member body elected from individual districts. He had previously announced at the Salisbury Chamber / PACE forum that he supported a seven member council. (NOTE: this would occur REGARDLESS of who is elected mayor as charter changes cannot be vetoed.)
What’s wrong with that? If you divide Salisbury into seven districts which are roughly equal by population you will have created FOUR rotten boroughs. Think about it. Salisbury would be governed by AT LEAST four districts where the total votes cast to elect the majority of council would be less than half (probably less than a third) of the votes cast to elect the other seats.
The facts are simple. The current District 1 simply doesn’t show up to vote in city elections. Neighborhoods such as Church Street / Doverdale, the Presidents and Princeton Homes don’t show up to vote in city elections. Residents of Camden, the Park area, the neighborhoods along North and South Schumaker Drives – they show up to vote. Yet – they will be effectively disenfranchised when it comes to city council representation. It is easily conceivable that you will have council members (from a majority of districts) elected with fewer than 100 votes. Some could be elected with fewer than 50!
Bottom line – a group like SAPOA could literally buy a majority of the city council ON THE CHEAP! Is this YOUR vision for a better Salisbury?
Day also wishes to give council members access to “discretionary funds”. If you have ever lived in cities where this practice is used you know that this breeds corruption. These funds are used to, in effect, buy votes. In some extreme cases the funds are funneled to “projects” that do not provide service to residents but actually give the council member of piece of your tax dollars in excess of their salary.
Since coming out with this proposal at the Democrat Club he has been busy trying to put a little lipstick on this pig. According to his Facebook page, he now claims:
Neighborhood Budget Prioritization
In writing the City’s operating budget and Capital Improvement Plan, 10% of Community Promotions, Neighborhood Services, Streets, Street Lighting, Sanitation and Parks should be allotted by number of households to each neighborhood of the City. At a community meeting held in each neighborhood, citizens will discuss and vote on priorities in the budget to be spent in their neighborhood. This process should determine how the apportioned funds are spent. Annual review can determine if the overall share to neighborhoods should be increased if this program proves popular.
While this sounds slightly better than advocating a slush fund for council members, Day is still calling for very small groups of people (imagine how many people will actually turn up at these “community meetings”) to determine where YOUR tax dollars are being spent. In effect, Day proposes Balkanizing Salisbury.
The spending of your tax dollars will be determined by people who have no incentive to do what is best for the city as a whole. Instead, we can expect horse trading for votes to spend money on projects that are only meaningful to a select few. AGAIN – Is this your vision for a better Salisbury?
Making a Bad Situation Worse
Please don’t believe for one moment that this is an endorsement of the re-districting plan recently enacted by the city council. I believe that their plan wasn’t particularly good for the city either. Unfortunately, faced with threats of litigation from the ACLU I do understand why they came up with their plan. It is my opinion that five seats, three by district and two at-large, was the best solution. Unfortunately, that didn’t come to pass.
Compared to Day’s vision for the Federated Balkan Wards of Salisbury, the recently enacted plan looks almost perfect. If Mr. Day sincerely believes that this type of governance is a good thing, might I suggest that he move to Chicago.