There’s a lot of talk within the Toledo community and amongst some of the city council members of changing the size of Toledo city council. It seems some folks think a 12-member council is too large. At the present time, Toledo’s city council consists of six district and six at-large representatives. Unless I am mistaken, a couple of the councilman and several vocal citizens at-large are advocating a reduction in the number of elected at-large council representatives from six to three. Apparently some people think that the at-large representatives mostly come from certain sections of the community and do not properly represent the entire community thereby diminishing the representation of other sections of the community.
While I do not necessarily advocate a 12-member council size, I do have some thoughts related to the “rationale” used by the advocates of a smaller size city council.
Why does anyone think that a 12-member council is too large? It seems to me that the greater number of elected representatives to council provides for greater opportunity of citizen input and increased governmental accountability and responsiveness. I’ve heard that some of the advocates of a smaller council also put forth the argument that a smaller council will result in cost savings. Give me a break. How much of a savings? What percentage of the entire city budget would be the result of a smaller size city council? Is it really worth the resultant decrease in democratic representation and citizen voice? Think about it. With the smaller number of elected representatives comes the result of concentrating power in fewer people. Are people really desirous of that? Are people really willing to have fewer people exercise more power over them?
For those people who advocate a smaller number of at-large council representatives thinking that it would address their concern of at-large representatives coming mostly from certain areas of the city to the detriment of representation from other sections of the community, I have a simple question. How does decreasing the number of at-large representatives truly address those concerns except in terms of the quantity of the water-down representation from those areas or sections of the community allegedly adversely affected by the current system? While a decrease in at-large elected representatives may result is less over-representation by certain areas, it does not eliminate the "perceived" injustices or disparity as related to areas alleged to be under-represented or overpowered by those from the other areas of the city.
Back before the late 1960s, Toledo City government consisted of an all at-large elected city council that in turn elected a mayor from amongst their own, Then, a change took place that allowed for the direct election of a mayor. The mayor nominated a city manager that had to be confirmed by a vote of the council. Whenever there was a “problem,” all the parties pointed fingers to the other parties assigning blame and responsibility. It was a vicious political circle of “blame the manager” and “blame the Mayor” and “blame the council” with no one taking responsibility. It didn’t seem to matter that the manager served at the pleasure of the mayor and council; and, council often would state the mayor appointed the manager. Whenever the citizens were vocal in their displeasure, the mayor and council would point the finger of blame at the manager and the manager would fault council. Responsiveness, accountability, and responsibility were evasive whenever it served the pleasure of City Hall.
Quite a few years ago, I was an active participant and an early committee member of the citizen effort that eventually resulted in the change of city government. Incidentally, there was more than one attempt and there was more than one group or committee that transcended over several years. Those of us involved at the time came from across the wide spectrum of the community. Many different perspectives and approaches were put forth and discussed seemingly ad nauseum until compromises were reached that most of the "players" could accept as necessary in order to bring about change.
The end result changed the composition of Toledo City Council from the smaller all at-large council to a larger council that is the present combination of at-large and district representatives. It also eliminated the council-manager form of municipal government to the strong mayor form of city government. In a nutshell but by no means all comprehensive, the underlying rationale for the district representation was to allow for more responsiveness and the underlying rationale for a strong mayor was responsibility while allowing the entire city government to be more accountable. Oh, the real reason to keep some at-large representatives on Toledo City Council was purely political; some folks simply did not want to give up power.
Flash forward to the issue of the size and composition of Toledo City Council today. I suggest as I did so many years ago that Toledo City Council be composed of nine representatives all of whom are elected from geographical districts. District representation is the way to go. The United States Supreme Court has upheld the principle of one person-one vote, as has the Ohio Supreme Court when it struck down the former system of electing state representatives from counties on an at large basis as a violation of the one person-one vote principle.
Sometimes, I think I am just spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. Remember this.