Districting

City Council Districts:  Geography or Ideology?

As the only current declared City Council candidate from South Asheville, I’ve been asked about my views on the recent bill filed by State Senator Chuck Edwards which would split Asheville into Council districts.  I neither support the bill nor do I agree with the manner in which Senator Edwards is proceeding.

The basic question that I have is “what is the problem that this bill is seeking to solve?”  Is it one of geography, where Senator Edwards believes that the interests of parts of the City are underrepresented?  Or, is it one of ideology, where he is trying to better the chance for someone with his political viewpoints to get elected?  It seems to me to be the latter.

At a CIBO breakfast in February, I posed this “geography vs. ideology” to a group of panelists pushing for districts.  Several of the district advocates responded by saying that City Council had become too progressive or that there was a “cabal” that favored certain candidates.  That does not sound like a geographic concern to me.

When I organized South Asheville neighborhoods around a development, I heard from many people of their genuine desire to have someone from the area elected to City Council.  South Asheville is experiencing rapid apartment complex and hotel growth without corresponding infrastructure investment.  Of the 74 parks in the City, there is only 1 in South Asheville.  There is no community center south of Shiloh.  We don’t have any greenways.  Just recently, sidewalks have begun to be added to Hendersonville Road.

But just how South Asheville achieves Council representation matters and I don’t believe that districts are the solution.  First, districts create turf and have the potential to pit parts of the City against each other in competition.  My experience with this City Council was that they were very responsive to South Asheville concerns.  All but one of them met personally with me to hear our concerns about the South Asheville development and I found nearly all of them to be engaged.  Second, this change will cause unnecessary cost and confusion.  The Buncombe County Board of Elections will need to create new ballots and voters will need to learn yet another district boundary.  All County taxpayers will be paying more for this if it passes.

I would be more sympathetic to the push for district elections if the motivation truly was ensuring geographic representation from all parts of the City.  If Senator Edwards agrees, then certainly he would be willing to amend his bill to allow the vote to be at large like the current way County school board members are elected.  My view is that all residents of Asheville should be able to vote for all members of City Council.

Finally, the manner in which Senator Edwards is pushing bill is an affront to his stated conservative principles.  Simply declaring via a letter that districts will occur is not democratic.  This issue needs to be discussed and debated publicly which is I am extending an invitation to him to debate the merits of it with me in a public forum in South Asheville.  I look forward to hearing from him and hope that you will encourage him to participate.

PRESS COVERAGE OF ISSUE

Read Vijay’s Op-Ed in the Asheville Citizen Times on this issue here.

Listen to Vijay’s interview on Blue Ridge Public Radio on this issue here.