Update: Carruthers is very worried about single-member districts. Here’s her letter in the Blue Paper. (I couldn’t help but comment.) It’s a repeat of Sylvia’s bogus arguments. Have you noticed that the only people who vocally oppose single-member districts so far are the county commissioners? Interesting that.
There’s a very good article about SMART Districts on KeysNews.com today. Currently county commissioners are elected at-large, that is by voters county-wide. The SMART Districts PAC is proposing that commissioners be elected by voters within their own districts.
PAC member, John Millhiser, had this to say.
The current system prevents voters from electing commissioners who best represent their individual district, according to Millhiser.
This is so very true. Carruthers Emergency Services Surtax (ESS) proposal is one very recent example. This proposal would have been damaging for working folks Keys-wide, but especially in the Key West area with its high proportion of renters. Would Carruthers have even considered such a proposal if she were directly accountable to the voters in her district? The fact that she proposed this in an election year just demonstrates how secure she is in pursuing policies that hurt the majority of her own constituents.
Unsurprisingly, Comm. Sylvia Murphy is opposed to the idea of single-member districts and is heavily quoted in the article.
County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said changing to single member districts would be equivalent to voters giving up four-fifths of their vote.
Right now, Murphy’s district has zero-fifths of a vote. The Key Largo area has been ineffectively “represented” by Murphy for years. Under Murphy’s “leadership”, Key Largo has suffered a negligently unfair wastewater funding disparity, which has taken a toll on the economy in the area. Not only has Murphy allowed this situation to develop and persist but she’s lied about it. This is just one of many issues.
“That commissioner will answer to you and the other four will probably ignore you entirely because they are not depending on your vote,” Murphy said. “It makes the county very splintered and it leaves no one caring about what is good for the county. It’s probably the worst idea that I’ve heard in a long time.”
In my experience, all five will ignore you entirely under the current system.
The county is already very splintered. Certain county officials make good use of the manfactured tension to quietly push their own self-serving agendas. The current at-large system makes it very easy for a commissioner to play one district against another. It also allows for an ineffective commissioner like Murphy, to fly under the radar.
An accountable commissioner is going to argue effectively for his or her own district. I’ve found that when I explain Key Largo’s situation to folks in the Lower Keys, they are very receptive to fixing it. By the same token I’ve educated myself on the issues faced by folks in Cudjoe Regional. These issues are interrelated, but the current system allows the commissioners to divide and conquer. As a result, the problems go unaddressed.
The current at-large system allows a commissioner who is unpopular in his own district to be elected by voters elsewhere. And, yes, that has happened. If single-member districts were in effect in 2014, Danny Coll would have won the District 2 primary. Neugent can ignore the concerns of his constituents because he knows that people outside his district can be sweet-talked into voting for him. Then once the election is over, he can forget all about the people who elected him. Murphy, too.
I was very happy to see someone from Key West supporting the SMART Districts concept. As I mentioned above, Key West is also poorly served by the at-large system. Probably much more than people realize. Mr. John Miller made this excellent point.
Key West District VI resident and SMART District member John Miller said at-large voting is discriminatory and gives the wealthiest candidates an unfair advantage at any level.
“You want to have as representative a government as you can and if everyone is elected at-large then you have just one voice,” Miller said. “It’s people that are all connected and can afford to run a campaign that goes 120 miles from one end (of the Keys) to the other.”
Kolhage’s 2012 campaign was sponsored in large part by the Spottswood companies. Kolhage also has an acquaintance in common with Richard Toppino, the FKAA board member who’s family business recently received unanimous BOCC approval for an unpopular development in Big Coppitt. Carruthers’s ESS proposal is terrible for the working folks of Key West, but it’s fantastic for her and her campaign donors.
As terrible a job as these commissioners do, they often run unopposed. Kolhage, Carruthers and Murphy all ran unopposed in 2012. Rice ran unopposed in 2014. Kolhage and Carruthers are running unopposed again this year. This is not a reflection of their performance, which has been objectively poor. It is a reflection of the difficulty and expense of campaigning Keys-wide.
Contrast this with the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District (District) which has five candidates competing for two seats. There needs to be more competition and single-member districts allow more people to run.