Recently the City of Raleigh began a poll regarding the future structure and compensation of City Council. The poll asks five questions. Before I present these questions, I want to first offer my own opinion about the future of Raleigh City Council.
Raleigh is a big city. The latest census shows that 467,000 people now live in Raleigh. Currently, Raleigh City Council consists of five district Council Members, two Council Members elected at-large, and the Mayor for a total of eight. Each District Council Member represents more than 90,000 citizens. Thus, each district is as large as a small city. And each district covers a large geographic area. Raleigh’s total geographic area is 144 square miles. Each District covers nearly 29 square miles. Despite the City’s growth both in geographic area and population, the Raleigh City Council has remained unchanged for 50 years.
Now is a good time to consider change and I propose that the City of Raleigh should double the number of District Council Members from five to ten and eliminate the two at-large Council Members. Doing so would increase the Council from eight members to eleven. Moreover, this change will greatly improve representation on Council and give even
more people the opportunity to serve.
I first ran for City Council in 2015. Running for Council can be a daunting prospect. When running for Council you want to meet people to tell them your story and explain why they should vote for you. I have been extremely fortunate to have had a number of volunteers who contributed countless hours knocking on doors in the extreme heat of the summer months. And I have been fortunate to raise enough money to pay the printing and postage to send mailers throughout my district.
But these expenses and the large population and geographic area are a significant barrier to conducting an election campaign. Because of these barriers most very qualified individuals never consider running for public office. These barriers are a disservice to the citizens of Raleigh because the field of candidates becomes limited to those with deep pockets and wealthy contributors. It really is a fluke when someone can run an effective grassroots campaign and actually win in the City of Raleigh.
We can level the playing field a lot by increasing the number of District Members from five to ten. Doing so will result in Districts that are both half the size geographically and half the population. Each District would have about 45,000 citizens or about 19,000 households. Smaller Districts eliminates barriers and makes mounting an effective campaign much easier thus opening the door to greater participation.
Moreover, with more Districts, there is better representation. Rather than the Council being dominated as it has been historically by individuales who live inside the beltline, more districts will ensure that representatives are elected from all quarters of the City.
More Districts also eliminate any argument for changing from two year terms to four year terms. It is being argued now that it is too difficult to run a campaign every two years. I argue that small Districts make it much easier to run a campaign. Thus, any “practical” need for four-year terms is eliminated. Moreover, two-year terms give the People the opportunity to change Council and provide a check and balance on elected officials – something very much needed in today’s world.
And isn’t that the purpose of democracy? To ensure that people are heard and are truly represented in the important decisions that affect their day-to-day lives. And that those elected are held accountable through regular elections.
Let me now return to the City of Raleigh’s poll about changing City Council. Unfortunately, that poll does not consider the points that I just presented. Instead, the poll presents far more limited choices.
Should City Council transition from two-year to four-year terms?
Should City Council increase its size to nine by adding one district seat?
Should City Council increase its size to nine by adding an At-Large member?
There is no option in this poll for adding more than one District Member. Moreover, it asks if an at-large member should be added. In my opinion, another at-large member would not increase representation or participation on Council. Instead, it will result in a Council that is dominated by the few who have the connections to wealthy donors to get elected.
Today you can make your voice heard by answering this poll. I ask that you consider responding as follows:
Answer DISAGREE on changing from two-year to four-year terms.
Answer DISAGREE on adding an At-Large member.
Answer AGREE on adding one district seat.
While the last option doesn’t get us where we truly need to be, for
the purposes of this poll, it is, in my opinion, the best answer.
The remaining two questions on the poll concern compensation for the
members and the mayor. I offer no opinion on those questions.
To participate in the City of Raleigh’s poll, please visit this website:
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David Cox, PhD
Member, Raleigh City Council, District B