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What commissioners owe their constituents

By Leon Galis

In a recent episode of Facebook Follies, I stumbled into a bit of electioneering in which a supporter of a Commission candidate was challenging supporters of the incumbent to name one thing that the Commissioner running for reelection had done specifically for the district. I took the bait as did a handful of other people but after a few minutes of the sort of senseless blather that elections feature, it dawned on me that the person running this dog and pony show had a pretty thin understanding of what Commissioners are supposed to be doing. I think the ring master’s idea of that is widely shared. So I’m going to try to flesh it out in the hope that I can rescue both Commissioners and Commission candidates from “what have you done for me lately” triviality. 

To keep this from degenerating into just more electioneering, I’m going to talk about District X, represented by Commissioner Geeky. And what I’m shooting for here is an understanding of what Commissioner Geeky owes his constituents. Bottom line: while our commissioners represent districts, they serve the entire community. All I have to do now is unpack that. 

Maybe a good place to start is with the question why we even have representation by districts. There are several reasons but a big one is to ensure that all elements of the community have a fair shot at electing the candidates of their choice to the Commission. If every commissioner were elected county-wide like the mayor, then it would be virtually impossible for voters not belonging to the dominant majority to elect their preferred candidates. 

It’s not hard to see how district representation fixes that. The reason we’ve never had an African-American mayor is that the mayor is elected county-wide, where the white population is about 65%, and the African-American population is just under 20%. Although several African-American candidates have given it their best shot over the years, that’s a pretty steep hill to climb. But through the magic of district representation, no matter how the election turns out next month, our African-American residents are guaranteed 50% of the Commission seats. 

Another advantage of district representation is the assurance it brings voters that they’ll be represented by someone who knows their district and many of its residents firsthand. People moved to seek the office are almost certainly going to be civic-minded, attentive to and familiar with matters of public concern in their districts. 

Even though there are these powerful reasons for representation by districts, Commissioners who focused exclusively on their districts would be abject failures at the job. Commission districts have boundaries, not borders. They’re just administrative conveniences that we’re hardly aware of as we all move freely about the county in our ordinary pursuits. Even geeky as I am, I couldn’t trace out the boundaries of my district on a map if you paid me. And I’m betting that hardly anybody else could either. 

Especially in a county as small as this one, the most urgent issues that the Commission has to address aren’t and couldn’t possibly be district specific. There’s no measure that Commissioner Geeky could shepherd through the Commission that would wipe out poverty in District X and nowhere else. Ditto for homelessness, affordable housing, public safety, and most of the other things that come before the Commission. There’s no District X specific solution to such issues. 

Even things that look district specific usually aren’t. For example, Satterfield Park is just inside the boundary of its home district. But the residents of the district don’t own it, aren’t entitled to the exclusive use of it. People just across the district boundary from it don’t need a special “show me your papers” pass to use it. It’s a community asset whose proximity to some residents makes it more convenient for them to use but doesn’t make it “theirs.” 

You have to get way down to things like streets and sidewalks to get to something that looks district specific. But ground level things like these aren’t really district specific either. When I call Streets and Drains to get a pothole on my street fixed, my neighbors and I will probably notice that more than somebody who “ain’t from around here.” But it doesn’t just benefit my neighbors and me to have the street in better than alignment destroying condition. Anybody from anywhere who drives on the street benefits from it being in good repair. When Commissioner Geeky sees to that, he performs a service not only to me and my neighbors who voted for him but to anybody else who happens to find him or herself driving on District X streets. 

All of which is to say that Commission districts aren’t like gated subdivisions. They’re integral parts of a larger community and District Commissioners who’re conscientious about serving their constituents are looking to do their best to legislate what are almost always undivided community benefits accessible to all even when conferred on individual districts. The distinction between district specific and “general” benefits that the Facebooker was riding so hard is really pretty phony, at least most of the time. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but when I’m evaluating candidates for public office here, I’m looking for the ones who understand that. 

 

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6 comentarios


Shag2023
Shag2023
12 abr

Sounds like you are trying to justify the lack of a Commissioner X from having to do anything for their Distriict X. Your argument is flawed. There are ten commissioners who get voted in by "their " district to represent "their" district when in comes to getting things done on a more local scale. Yes, the ten commissioners are also there to vote on matters that pertain to all of Athens (that is only a part of their duty)...however, if district X is needing some things more specific to them, and ALL districts need more specific things for them ...then that's where their Commissioner X needs to come in. If their commissioner has done absolutely nothing for their own district,…

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lgalis
lgalis
13 abr
Contestando a

You totally missed the point.

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william
william
12 abr

"Afghan migrant on terror watchlist roams free in US after being released by Border Patrol and immigration judge". (nypost) At the basic minimum government is supposed to protect their citizens.

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Contestando a

The NY Post? LOL.

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