I attended the meeting of the Charter Review Committee last night. They were reviewing Articles I and II of the Charter. Those cover the Powers and Functions of the Commission (Article I) and the Legislative Branch (Article II). Pretty much the discussion stayed within Article II.
The main issue that was discussed was what to do about the at-Large members of the Commission. There are nine Commissioners tied to 9 districts and two at-large Commissioners, which are elected through county-wide vote. The proposed changes would affect the language in Article II, Section 2.03(A)(1).
The evening started with public forum. One of the current at-large members of the Commission, Larsen Jay, spoke out against any of the proposals which would eliminate the at-large members. His argument was, essentially, that the at-large members offer a second avenue to which residents of Knox County can appeal, beyond the Commissioner from their own district.
Commissioner Busler – 7th District – made a proposal to eliminate the at-large members and stick with just nine commissioners, one per district. His argument was that having two at-large members of the Commission who can come from any district might give certain districts greater representation and more votes than the other districts. He stressed 1 vote per district is how it should work.
An appointed member of the Committee – Barry Neal – suggested that the at-large members should be eliminated and, instead, there should be two commissioners per district for a total of 18.
During discussion of the matter, someone suggested expanding the number of districts to 11 and keeping the at-large members. Based on the comments I heard last night, I doubt there are enough votes for any proposal which would eliminate the at-large members. While some agreed that the idea of one vote per district is laudable, no one could point to an example of when the extra votes for a particular district came into play. The arguments in favor of the at-large members, that they serve a valuable function being able to look at issues county-wide and provide a second avenue for constituents to get assistance, seemed to win the day.
The Committee decided to get some legal questions answered from the Law Director over the next month and try to come up a proposal to vote on at the next meeting in April. They want to see how changing the districts will affect the School Board districts. Most agree that they currently match exactly and don’t want to go back to the time when they didn’t. But the question is can they make the same change to the School Board districts that they’re contemplating for the Commission districts. They also want to look into the fact that the county is growing and how that could affect the decision they’re looking at.
If I were sitting on this Committee, I would be inclined to vote against any proposal which would eliminate the at-large members. I agree with the idea of Commissioner Busler’s argument that each district should have but one vote. But, in practice, this doesn’t appear to have been an issue. The positive benefits of having Commission members who look at the whole county, not just at a district, outweigh the issue raised by Commissioner Busler.
I would also be inclined to vote against any proposal which increases the number of Commissioners per district. More than one voice speaking for a District could be problematic. Better to have one elected voice per district. I also think that doubling the number of Commissioners is a problem because it makes the number of Commissioners even and adds the complication of tie votes.
I am neutral on the idea of increasing the number of districts, as long as we also keep the at-large members too. I think I can be swayed by the idea of dividing up the county into 11 districts, plus 2 at-large members. I would wait to see that proposal before deciding what to do.
But, at the end of the day, the best option is probably just to leave it alone. It’s only been about 10 years with the current configuration. A little continuity for voters might be the best thing overall.