District elections just might work
by Tim Peck
Vol. 13 / Iss. 45
In his letter to the editor, “Asheville needs true representation” (05/23/2007), Ashton Walton stated that “what’s needed is true representation on City Council of all the citizens of all of Asheville.”
What Mr. Walton laments is the lack of balanced representation from all major areas of the city in local government. In doing so, Mr. Walton seems to be advocating district elections for city council.
District elections would help to ensure greater geographic balance on city council and would give currently under-represented areas some chance of inclusion in decisions that might affect those areas.
But is a district the correct level of political aggregation for seeking representation? And is a district really a homogeneous political entity? I think a good case, perhaps a sufficient case, can be made in the affirmative. But would district elections in Asheville bring to local governance what Mr. Walton is really seeking? – which I believe is greater control over the destiny of smaller, distinct areas.
I too think that the smaller, distinct areas of town should have more influence on matters of governance and should be empowered to grow, develop and change in ways that best suit the people who actually live in them.
This is why I have advocated in the past the concept of the Neighborhood Zoning Authority. This is where established neighborhoods in Asheville would have the authority to develop, implement and enforce their own regulatory standards – within reasonable boundaries set by the city in a federalist model. This decentralization of government enhances democracy at its proper level and puts more control in the hands of those who must live under it.
Certainly the city does not currently have the statutory authority to delegate regulatory powers. This is a problem stemming from the general absence of home rule in North Carolina. The absence of home rule presents Asheville with a great number of problems; from water negotiations to land use planning and much more.
However, Mayor Bellamy, in her State of the City Address, called for greater neighborhood organization and a stronger sense of community within those neighborhoods. This is a good sign and I applaud the mayor’s wisdom and foresight.
And the city has plans now to implement Small Area Zoning as part of its Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) and I think this addition could be a good starting point for recognizing that neighborhoods are unique geopolitical entities that deserve special consideration in the structure and function of local governance.
I believe that the lack of home rule, district representation, and neighborhood autonomy, as well as the cynical drive toward partisanship in municipal elections, reflects a serious disconnect between elected officials and the people who have temporarily loaned them their power.
I agree with Mr. Walton that we truly need a “government of the (whole) people.”