It’s a great shame that Columbia city council voted not even to ask voters whether they would like to inject accountability into city government by moving to a strong-mayor form of government.
But it was predictable that they would do so. I feared that outcome when I saw that the council planned to vote right after a public hearing.
The proposal would have a chance put before the electorate — particularly in the fall, when a much more representative swath of the city’s voters will turn out, as compared to actual city elections.
But the kinds of people who turn up at hearings before council happens to be much the same set of people who passionately oppose such a change — even to the point, apparently, of not wanting their neighbors to have a chance to vote on it.
This is always the way. The people who are most opposed to a reform — or, to use more neutral language, a change of any kind — in the form of government are the very people most invested in the current form. And people who regularly go to council meetings tend to be people who have become comfortable with and accustomed to the current form. They’ve learned to make the existing system stand up and do what they want, so they don’t want it replaced.
I saw this on a much larger scale when we first started pressing for changing the form of state government in the early 90s. We were pushing for a more accountable system in which the will of the electorate would be more likely to be expressed in the way the executive branch of state government was run. We were seeking to replace a bewildering set of mixed-up governing arrangements that varied greatly from agency to agency (and still exists over most of state government).
The system was (and remains) far too complex and fragmented for the average citizen to understand or engage effectively. But what that meant was that the people who DID know how to make it work — experienced lawmakers, skilled bureaucrats, interest-group advocates and lobbyists — had a tremendous advantage in dealing with it. And consequently did not want it to change.
With city government, it’s more likely to be people who are very active in neighborhood associations who oppose a change that would make city administration accountable directly to one person elected citywide, rather than a hodgepodge of at-large and district representatives (with the district people having the majority).
Anyway… Columbia has missed yet another opportunity, and continues to be in the grip of a decades-long rear-guard action against progress.
A postscript… I was quite indignant that council did not wait for new members to join, since I knew that both Cameron Runyan and Moe Baddourah favored strong mayor. It seemed that anti-change incumbents were forcing a vote now to avoid losing.
But then I read in Clif LeBlanc’s report this morning, “Baddourah, who replaces Gergel, said he’s had a change of heart and would not support holding a vote this fall.”
Which really blew my mind, because I saw him on local TV news, either last night or the night before, stating his unequivocal support for strong mayor.
Clif needs to do a full, exhaustive, separate story on what in the world just happened there…