The City of Tallahassee would benefit in many ways by expanding the number of City Commissioners and electing Commissioners from single member districts (SMD).
Rather than elect four Commissioners and the Mayor at-large the City should elect fourteen Commissioners from seven SMDs and a Mayor at-large.
Among the nation’s municipalities Tallahassee is ranked 126th in population. The nation’s cities closest to Tallahassee in population all use a much different method of electing their Commissioners than Tallahassee uses..
The four cities closest to us in population are Salt Lake City, Utah; Huntsville, Alabama; Grand Prairie, Texas; and, Overland Park, Kansas.
The 124th largest city is Salt Lake City. The City elects seven City Council members from SMDs and a Mayor citywide. Each City Council member runs from a District with 17,168 residents.
In northern Alabama is Huntsville which is the 125th largest city in population. Huntsville elects five Council members from SMDs and the Mayor at-large. Each Council members runs in a District with 26,470 inhabitants.
The 127th city in population – Grand Prairie, Texas – elects six Council members from SMDs and two Council members at-large. The Mayor is elected citywide. Grand Prairie has nine elected officials. A majority of the Council are elected from Districts that have 31,302 citizens.
The City of Overland Park, Kansas, uses an electoral system Tallahassee may wish to consider emulating. This City, 128th in population, chooses twelve Councils members from six districts which means each District elects two representatives. That means each District elects one Commissioner every two years. Each District has 31,300 people in it.
Tallahassee elects the Mayor and City Commissioners citywide. If you consider the fact that the City has only one district then that district has 189,455 people in it.
The City’s method of electing officials is specifically designed to discourage certain classes of people from running for public office. That is why the City uses at-large election and has kept the number of Commissioners small.
The four other cities closest to us in size have between 12,018 to 21,910 voters in their single member districts. By comparison Tallahassee has 133,583 voters eligible to cast ballots in our municipal elections.
So here are some questions each of us should ask yourself.
Is it easier to run a walking door-to-door campaign in a district with 12,018 voters in it or citywide with 133,583 voters in it?
Is it cheaper to run a campaign where the electorate is 12,018 in size or 133,583 in size?
If the cost of a campaign is cheaper in a smaller district does that diminish the importance of large donors?
If it is easier and cheaper to run for office in a small SMD does that expand the pool of eligible candidates and make more people likely to consider running?
Does having smaller districts diminish or increase the importance of political consultants?
Tallahassee candidates have to contact six times the number of voters than candidates in the four cities mentioned in this article. Does that fact alone change who gets elected and how they have to run their campaign?
When your power goes out or you have a neighborhood concern will a Commissioner representing 12,018 voters be easier to approach than one representing 133,583 voters?
I propose that we change the electoral system from five elected officials to fifteen. Fourteen to be elected from seven single member districts and a citywide elected Mayor.
Along with this proposal I would take the current salary and benefits spread among the five elected officials and spread that exact same amount among fifteen. I propose this so we avoid the argument that more commissioners may cost more.
City staff could send all agenda items out to the 15 elected officials by email so there are no significant extra printing costs. Ten extra chairs would have to be purchased but that is a one- time cost.
If you want to reform the Commission then reform the method of election. Other ideas on how to change the method of election are welcome and would be a joy to read.
Jon M. Ausman is the longest serving member of the Democratic National Committee in Florida’s history. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 850-321-7799.