Saturday, May 31, 2014

"Metro Council @50" pleads case for smaller Metro Council before offering survey

I received a slide presentation that appears to be that of the supporters of the idea of making Metro Council a smaller body (link at the end of this post). Please note that I have not confirmed its source yet, so take it for what it is worth.

The slant of the presentation is definitely toward offering fodder for minimizing the Metro Council and particularly for slashing the council's expense line in the Metro budget. You will see that it initially provides a lot of historical and statistical data to get heads swimming, but don't get lost in the data. Follow how the data is interpreted, because that is what supporters are trying to get you to believe about details that can be interpreted in many ways.

Page 31 of the presentation is decisive. The presenters lay their cards on the table right before they ask people to fill out their survey (push poll?) on page 32. On page 31 the authors present
  • a "savings analysis," arguing that a "smaller government" will save the Metro budget $312,650 per year or $3.5 million over 20 years
  • an analogy of a smaller council to a smaller classroom
  • the view that bigger districts provide larger pools from which to draw candidates
  • the argument that the council would have "Broader City-wide perspective"
How is this presentation designed to appeal to progressives? None of us want to waste money, but let's be frank: open democracies where all people are fairly represented are typically the most expensive and most inefficient forms of government. If the primary interest in Nashville is to minimize cost of representative democracy, then centralizing more power with the executive to make decisions rubber-stamped by a minimal council may be the better course (assuming the Mayor doesn't blow Metro money on foolhardy projects). But democracies are messy and expensive. If the priority is making sure people have a voice in Metro government, then some level of inefficiency is going to naturally occur. The best deciders budget in leeway for the inefficiencies of democracy.

This presentation's focus on the cost of Metro Council and on cutting their expense line in the budget is a conservative argument. The move to make the council smaller is a conservative move if this is the presentation to do so.

The other three arguments that presenters make expose, in my opinion, that supporters are advocating as much status quo as they are transformation. If the Metro Council is like a classroom, then the classroom needs a teacher. Who is most likely to be the teacher in a strong-executive form of government? The Mayor. Making a smaller council makes a strapping Mayor even stronger, which is fine if the Mayor truly represents everyone. And when he or she does not represent everyone? If the council is the class and the Mayor the teacher, where are constituents in the analogy?

Creating larger pools from which to draw candidates does nothing to guarantee that diverse interests will be represented any more than the current large council does. In fact, it may dilute the power previously exercised by better organized popular movements to elect and to influence their candidate of choice. Observers noted the power of African-American voters in the last judicial election. That GOTV power could be diluted during council elections if Nashville increases the size of districts.

You want to see an example of how well broader city-wide perspectives work in Metro Council? Look at the current crop of at-Large Council Members. Even those who are considered the most progressive time and again voted against organized community interests when the questions came down to the Mayor vs. the community. "Broader city-wide perspective" is a myth that the council and other politicos like to perpetuate, but it is rarely manifested. By way of analogy (better than the classroom analogy), a smaller council is more likely to vote with the Mayor and against actual community interests if that perspective is its priority.

Again, these are conservative arguments that endorse consolidating power with the Mayor and with the wealthy campaign donors who have more influence on local politics than voters do. The move to make the council smaller is a conservative move if this is the presentation to do so.

Regardless of what I believe or of what the presenters intend, don't let anyone tell you what the data says. Interpret it for yourself. But be sure to keep your eye on how they spin the data. Jump to the presentation:

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