Sunday, November 13, 2005

Size Matters

My perspective on the Mayor's proposals for a Charter overhaul is beginning to take shape after some reflection. I generally support the idea of term limits for the Mayor. I more strongly support the idea of an independent auditor in the budget process. But on the issue of cutting the council's numbers from their current 38 to somewhere around half, my views are more slowly emergent.

On the one hand and from a strictly administrative viewpoint, things might run more smoothly with a smaller council. On the other hand, democracy is messy and rugged; it's a road filled with moguls (that is, mounds, not magnates) and potholes. I appreciate Council member Mike Jameson's somewhat detractive tone as he describes Council as "a herd of cats," apparently underscoring the inevitable futility that results when independent and aloof creatures attempt to cluster and act in concert against their natures.

The seeming impossibility and real disarray are the very bases of rule by the people. They create the possibility that if we don't like what we see, we can still claim some power to wipe the slate and start over, unchecked by efficient administrators, who are prone to use individuals as means to corporate ends, rather than treating people as ends in themselves. Besides, Metro's current herd of cats keeps giving me the very material I use to gig them. The circus can be entertaining and I would have much less to write if the Council is trimmed and streamlined to administrative sharpness and efficiency.

Aside from their service to my selfish purposes on Enclave, a larger Council undeniably allows many different types of Nashvillians to be represented and have a voice (assuming their Council member is actually responsive ... a huge assumption). The current Council is fairly diverse, and cutting their numbers could actually erode that diversity. The more the public debate expands to include various and sundry Nashvillians, the more ideally democratic and broadly responsive our local government becomes, even if it tends to have to play catch-up to administrative leadership.

So, I lean with the 2:1 majority in the Metro Council and against the Mayor in opposing cutting the Council back to half of what it is. But not, as Council member Ronnie Greer told the Tennessean, because it is "perfect." Put that kind of overstatement aside; the current quantity is acceptable at best until someone can make the case for effective democratic alternatives, which Mayor Purcell has not. And I certainly do not align myself with opponents like Council member Michael Kerstetter, who reversed the proper purpose of public service in his comments to the Tennessean:
"[The Mayor's proposal to cut the size of the Metro Council] probably is dead on arrival, anyway. Who would support it? Would you vote for it if it was going to eliminate your job?"
If I were Kerstetter and service to my Antioch constituents meant eliminating my leadership position on their behalf in an attempt to empower them rather than myself, then you're damned right I would vote for it. The Mayor's proposal is not the one to vote for; but there may be one for which to vote someday. However, if Kerstetter confuses public service with his job, then chances are he will not vote for any motion, good or bad, that requires self-sacrifice.


  1. Are there council members who have no other 'job' than their elected positions? I never understood this to be a full-time job (although I could see how it could be).

  2. I believe that Council members make $15,000 a year, which would be a difficult salary to live on without moonlighting. Jameson is quoted in the article saying he would like to see the position salaried as more of a full-time job.