Outstanding Editorial About Single-member Districts

I votedNot sure how I missed this outstanding editorial at KeysNews.com (the Citizen) about single-member districts.  Glad I finally found it though.

In her letter to the editor, Comm. Heather Carruthers’s seemed to suggest that excluding working folks from the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) is actually a good and necessary thing.  According to Carruthers, people who are gainfully employed can’t possibly devote enough time to serve their constituents properly.  Better for the workforce to just sit back and let Carruthers and her colleagues do their thing I guess.  The Citizen’s editorial challenged her on that, which I was happy to see.In her letter to the editor, Carruthers said:

Some say the purpose of proposing SMDs is to encourage more people to run for office. I completely support that goal, but the real barrier is serving, not running.  Being a County Commissioner requires many practical things, including a flexible schedule, accessibility and travel. It is difficult to manage a normal 40-hour workweek and effectively serve, and more difficult to support a family solely on a Commissioner’s salary.

Here is what the Citizen’s editorial has to say about that:

America was born of the basic principle of representation. When you remove the ability of voters to select one of their own district residents from their own neighborhoods to office, you remove their ability to have a strong champion at the table. Not only would this also favor candidates with means, as campaigning, signage, etc. is very expensive and would be prohibitive for many to have to place island-wide, it allows for maximum control of the entire island by the few.

Carruthers has really been showing her ass lately.  She and her campaign donors would have enjoyed huge tax breaks under her Emergency Services Surtax (ESS) proposal.  Your typical worker-bee, not so much.  Most would pay more in sales tax than they would save on property taxes.  There would have been no offset for renters.  No wonder Carruthers doesn’t want working people anywhere near the BOCC.  They’ll be interfering with her self-serving “tax shifts”.

Despite all the arguments to the contrary about not having the ability to move forward because of lack of agreement on the commission, etc., who wants a commission that is dominated by the opinions of the affluent to the detriment of the non-affluent? Apparently at least one commissioner does.

Amen to that. There’s only token resistance, if even that, to out-of-control spending initiatives.  Generally, the BOCC works in lockstep with little substantive discussion or debate.  That harmonious, collegial environment that Carruthers enjoys so much has cost the taxpayers millions.

Carruthers isn’t the only one who prefers to exclude the “little guy”.  Sylvia Murphy opposes single-member districts as well.  At this point it looks like all five commissioners oppose single-member districts.  Not one commissioner has offered to place single-member districts on the ballot.

I do disagree with the editorial on one point.

How would Key West and Monroe County like to see their representation on the state level disappear? They might feel the same as residents of Key Largo and Islamorada, whose population isn’t enough to overcome the Key West vote. Those who win Key West win the county. And those who win key neighborhoods win Key West, regardless of district, if the measure is allowed to move forward.

Key West cannot deliver enough votes on its own to allow a BOCC candidate to win the entire county.  I discussed that here.  Key West occupies all of District 3 and part of District 1.  Those two districts combined have 18,571 registered voters.  About 14,571 of those voters reside in Key West.  The rest reside in the unincorporated area.  There are 34,872 voters in Districts 2, 4 and 5.  No candidate is going to win a county-wide election by winning Key West alone.

I would argue that despite their perceived voting power, Key West suffers as much under the current system as anyone else.  Let’s take capital spending as one example.  Key West derives zero benefit from the over-spending on Cudjoe Regional – $49 million over budget.  Key West derives zero benefit from the Upper Keys court house which has increased in cost from about $12 million to $28 million.  The at-large system allows commissioners to avoid accountability for their irresponsible behavior.

Carruthers’s Emergency Services Surtax (ESS) is another great example of how Key West is not well-served under the current system.  Key West locals would have been especially hard hit because of its high number of renters.  Comm. Carruthers theoretically represents Key West.  Why would she push the ESS proposal which is so detrimental to her own district?  I suspect its because she knows she has little to fear under the existing system.  Securing a huge tax break for herself and her campaign donors at the expense of low-moderate income families was worth the risk.  She knows the at-large system discourages many from running, and she would apparently like to keep it that way.

When you remove the ability of voters to select one of their own district residents from their own neighborhoods to office, you remove their ability to have a strong champion at the table.

This is the situation District 5 finds itself in today.  Comm. Murphy has been grossly ineffective and negligently misinformed throughout her tenure.  However, the damage she’s done to her own district has only become clear to the public since she ran unopposed in 2012.  There’s a lot more information available today.  Hopefully, it hasn’t escaped the voters attention.

As I said, there is little support for single-member districts on the BOCC.  Obviously, current BOCC members benefit from the existing system and none of them are willing to place single-member districts on the ballot.  The voters will have to do it themselves.  It will take about 6,000 signatures.  You can find a copy of the petition at the SMARTDistricts.org Facebook page.

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