In the Arena: City Commission Should be Expanded

In the Arena: City Commission Should be Expanded

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 or at 850-321-7799.

11 Responses to "In the Arena: City Commission Should be Expanded"

  1. I realize this is probably getting old and repetitive by now, but I’ll float (once again) the idea of NE Tallahassee eventually seceding from Tallahassee and becoming it’s own city, with it’s own schools, government, tax system and the rest of the necessary components of a city government.
    And once again I’ll use the example of Sandy Springs in GA, once a suburb of Atlanta until folks in Sandy Springs became fed up with the systemic corruption and onerous taxes of Atlanta’s city government.
    From the Sandy Springs Government website:
    “Honest, Efficient and Responsive have been part of the City’s motto since incorporation in 2005. These guiding principles are integrated with the City’s core management.”

    I’m just sayin’ – it’s been done before, and NE Tally could at some point do the same.

  2. I know I would consider running for office if it was a little easier on the wallet. I believe this idea would represent the population better! Interesting idea.

  3. I wonder which district would be contributing the most money to the City’s coffers based on real estate values and how much the vote of that district’s representative will be diluted by the sheer number of votes from other districts? It appears we may just be trading a corrupt few lining their own pockets with outside money for a larger pool of idealistic politicians shifting wealth around, you know, just to level the playing field. “Longest serving member of the Democratic National Committee in Florida history.” Yep.

  4. And conservatives.
    A conservative could win a seat if there existed a small district in the northeast.
    But since the city is overwhelmingly populated by registered Democrats, running citywide as a conservative is, by design, unwinnable.
    Meanwhile, the state Dems are running a negative balance in their bank account:
    Who was in charge of it the last time they got into trouble like this? (Trick question.)

    1. Oh Oh may I answer like Jeopardy in the form of a question?
      “Alex I’d like to make it a true double Jeopardy!”
      “Who is Scott Maddox?”

  5. Interesting and thoughtful comments, Jon. Of course, you have more staffers (which can present a problem because, as we have seen, senior staff can run roughshod over everyone including Commission staff) which is much more expensive. The better representation is laudable.

    How do we address the roughly 12,000-17,000 county residents who are stuck with COT Utilities and thus are being taxed without a vote? Current Commissioners/City Manager (past and interim) have offered nothing but window dressing with Utility Authority efforts. My last comment would be the unnecessary office of Mayor. COT does not need one. I would suggest we have been 0-for-3. Useless. Rotate like the old days and make on Commissioner take on the ceremonial nonsense for a year at a time.

  6. If we could just exchange our 5 corrupt and/or complicit-in-corruption city officials for 5 ETHICAL, HONEST commissioners, that would be a tremendous improvement.
    But, as Mr. Ausman states: “The City’s method of electing officials is specifically designed to discourage certain classes of people from running for public office.” One certain class that’s obviously been excluded by this “method” is ethical, honest people.

  7. And finally I recomend we hold to the 2017 annual level of graft and corruption at $5 million and divide that amoung the proposed number of 15 city commisioners. This will have the net effect of an extreem reduction of graft and corruption by limiting each city commishioner to only $333,333.33 each.
    A total common sense win-win for every sheeple…err I mean every citizen in our great city !!!

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