Original posting on Forbes.com – 6/21/2013 @ 4:44PM
It’s not super often that Detroit is lifted up as an example of good governance.
The city has been wracked with decades of stagnation, has had a series of mayors parade from city hall to jail, and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder recently placed the city into receivership and appointed an “emergency manager” to restructure debt and approve council and mayoral decisions with the goal of putting the city on a better, more sustainable path. But the shameful actions taken last week by the City Council in Anaheim served as a reminder that Detroit has done some things that are a model of good governance. And recently too.
Anaheim is a city of 343,793 that lies in the heart of Orange County. The OC used to be a bastion of conservatives, this has changed over the past 20 years as immigrants from Mexico and South Asia have become an ever larger presence. This has changed the demographic makeup and the politics. The city is now majority minority. The area comprises part of a safe Democratic district. Big changes have been happening.
Big changes have happened in Anaheim everywhere, that is, except on the City Council, whose membership has remained wealthy and white. How has this happened? Anaheim elects all of its Council members as citywide at-large members, which empowers the politically active and well-connected, and effectively mutes the voices of immigrants and the poor, who vote less often and have less money to impact the political process. This is a sad subversion of representative democracy.
The solution to this is to introduce district-level representation, so that each geographic area in a city sends a representative to the Council. Because people sort according to race and class, this is a better way to ensure that the full range of voices is represented in the city’s governance structure. Anaheim’s entrenched powers-that-be rejected this last week, in essence deciding that preserving their power was a higher priority than embracing America’s ideals. This is a travesty and the Council should be ashamed.
In contrast, Detroit used its voter-led initiative process to move from an all at-large Council system to one with district representation, thus ensuring broader Council representation. Although the first election under the new rules will come under the receivership, meaning the new Council members will have only limited power, this is a strong move in the right direction.
Anaheim, are you taking note?