Districts Or At Large? – Committee Studies Alternatives

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By Dave Freneaux

   During last spring's election campaign, three of Central's current Council Members emphatically supported the concept of Single Member Districts as the way City Council Members should be chosen in future elections.  Now, as the concept is being studied by a committee chaired by Council Member Wayne Messina, Central's other two Council Members have come out in support of Districts as well.  On the campaign trail in 2010 Tony LoBue, Wayne Messina and Ralph Washington stated that they were in favor of moving away from "At Large" elections and moving to Districts.  In separate interviews this week Council Members Louis DeJohn and Aaron Moak both stated that they see the merits of moving to Districts, but more importantly, they have heard the people of Central come out strongly in favor of Districts as well.  As such, they are in support of such a change.

    Having heard the strong sentiments expressed during the election campaign, Mayor Watts formed a committee, chaired by Mr. Messina, to study the concept of moving to Districts.  The committee, composed of citizens chosen by the Council Members and the Mayor, met on February 9th and began exploring the issue.  The Lawrason Act, which is the Louisiana Law under which Central's form of government operates, allows the Council to choose the method in which Council Members are elected to serve.  Central's City Council was created with five Council Members who would run "At Large", meaning that all of the voters in Central mmay choose their top five candidates, and the five with the most votes are seated as the City Council.  If the Council were to change to five Districts, an independent study would be done by a demographer and Central would be divided into five districts of equal population.  Then, at election time, the voters of each District would elect their representative to the City Council.  Voters in one District would not cast a vote in other District races.

    Candidates in the 2010 campaign supportive of a move to Districts explained that Districts give equal representation to the citizens in all areas of Central.  Under Districts, those seeking to represent a district must live in that District and will be elected only by those in that District.  As such, the concerns of the citizens in that part of Central will be familiar to that Council Member and the Council Members will be accountable to listen to the concerns of those who elected them.   With At Large elections, which Central has now, it is possible that many or all Council Members might live in one small area of the City.  Indeed, all five of the current Council Members live in School Board District 1, which is home to 14% of Central's citizens.

    Proponents of the At-Large election process point out that with all five Council Members answerable to 100% of the voters, every voter has five Council Members to call when they have a concern.  Also, under Districts it is possible that Council Members may feel pressure to campaign for City resources to be directed to their Districts.  These are among the reasons that Council Members DeJohn and Moak originally did not favor Districts, but both have since joined LoBue, Messina and Washington in favor of Districts.  Council Member Messina is scheduled to set another committee meeting date to continue to study this issue in the upcoming weeks.

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