Single-Member Districts Will Diminish Representation, Grow Government


The Republican Party stands for well-run, good, limited government. We’re fortunate Sarasota County has that reputation, with both low taxes and strong services. But a Democrat-sponsored ballot initiative to change to Chicago-style ward districts could jeopardize all of that. It’s called the single-member district proposal and its goal is to have each Sarasota County commissioner not only live in their district, but allow only voters within that district to vote them into or out of power.

This would almost assuredly grow government, sow the seeds for potential corruption, create the demand for higher taxes and make the County Commission as a whole less responsive to the voters of the county. In other words, Chicago-style.

The backers of the proposal, a group called the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections operating with the support of the Sarasota County Democratic Party, call this a move for more representative government. But it is not. It will be the opposite of that. It appears more like to be the pursuit of Democrats winning one or two seats on the five-member Board of County Commissioners—something they have been unable to do running countywide.

Here’s the language in the ballot summary, which could be in November or in a special election. The proposal: “Changes the method by which County Commissioners are elected. Currently each is elected by voters county-wide. This Amendment changes elections to single member districts so that each County Commissioner is elected only by the voters in the district that they seek to represent.”

There are four basic options for local government representation. The Board could be: all at large, elected countywide; all by districts, elected only in their district; some at large and some district; or all elected countywide but required to live in their district.

Sarasota County has the last arrangement, which is the best possible option for good government. Each county commissioner is accountable to voters countywide, meaning that just because they live in Sarasota, they cannot ignore Venice or North Port. Further, because they must live in their district, there is not the threat for three or four all being in Sarasota, or all being in North Port. They are geographically spread and so plugged in to their district, but they must answer to voters countywide.

The absolute worst option is the single-member district only. It’s so bad that when county voters were suckered into it once before, in 1992, they quickly realized the Chicago-style disaster it created and immediately in 1994 reversed to the current setup.

The inevitable dynamic of the single-member district is that each commissioner will care only about the county voters in their district. Those across the line in another district will not matter to them. If there is one commissioner that is good at bringing home the bacon to his district, but is bad for the county, the rest of the county cannot touch him or her. But here’s the catch: That commissioner will still have the authority to vote to raise the taxes on the people who did not elect him or her and cannot un-elect him or her.

That is bad government and that is what is being proposed in the Democratic-backed initiative.

The Republican Party of Sarasota strongly opposes this amendment on the grounds that it will set the stage for growing the size of local government, create the opportunity for corruption and likely add to the level of taxation, all while reducing representation and responsiveness to voters.

Jack Brill is vice chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota

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