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August 23, 2006

Fighting political abuse in Davenport

Davenport voters -- or at least the 18.8 per cent who cared -- just soundly rejected a proposal by "Citizens for Smart Governance" (read DavenportOne) to re-structure the city council by changing terms from two years to four.

New idea: this one from "The Committee Against Political Abuse," which wants to abolish the two aldermen-at-large slots on the council. Spokesman Phil Yerington (yup, the former mayor/police lieutenant) also says a state audit of city finances ought to be done, and asked that we all call him up to report "situations that are suspicious." Ummmm ... what about committees against "political abuse" with former mayors as their front people? That count?

Anyway, whether having at-large council members is a good thing is one of those questions professors of government could debate until the second coming without reaching any definitive resolution. The basic in-favor idea is that at-large alderpeople, being beholden to voters city-wide, will keep the "big picture" in mind, and bridge the gap that might otherwise appear when ward alderpeople think first of more parochial issues.

Like most every possible governing structure, how it works in practice depends pretty much entirely on the individuals who flesh it out. In Davenport, each of the eight wards have one council member, and two are elected at-large. Of the current pair, Jamie Howard was re-elected last year and Ian Frink is in his first term.

Since Howard was re-elected, it seems likely that voters city-wide were on the whole satisfied with her. Frink, who beat out several other candidates, seems to have a view that extends beyond his home ward. His blog (ianfrink.blogspot.com) reflects that he's holding regular meetings throughout the city, discussing policies and proposals important throughout the city and answering questions from whoever wants to ask.

Much is being made of the facts that 1) Howard and Frink both live in the sixth ward, and 2) generally vote with the council bloc that is pushing ahead with controversial downtown redevelopment projects. Neither fact really is any kind of evidence against the at-large system. Voters knew where the two lived when they elected them; voters can give them the boot if supporting downtown is the wrong policy, in the big picture.

I'm not sure a state audit is needed either. Lots of the unhappiness about city finances goes back to downtown re-development. The city has made a raft of deals with profit and non-profit groups over the last six years or so. The deals no doubt resulted in a much spiffier downtown.

But all isn't working out perfectly. In addition to the capital expenditures that came out the city's pockets, city subsidies required for some of the projects are turning out to be larger and longer-lasting than anticipated. Various leases aren't producing as much revenue as predicted; there are still major projects to under take. A sound re-assessment of where we are would be good. Just not sure a state audit is needed; I'd hope a council with the city's interests at heart could gather and evaluate the numbers and make whatever policy changes are needed without dragging in a flock of auditors.

But maybe not. Maybe the Committee Against Political Abuse will end up with enough tips about "situations that are suspicious" to warrant an outside look. At the moment, though, I'm suspicious that the politics of personality is riding high, to the detriment of us all.

Posted by jcb at August 23, 2006 11:03 PM


I haven't seen the details of the proposal to eliminate the "at large" aldermen, but I think it's a dumb idea. I kinda like having a couple of people on the council who are (we hope) looking at the city as a whole, and not just their ward. Seems like a good thing for balance.

Another case of wanting to fix what ain't broke in Davenport. How about fixing things that are?

Posted by: Vita at August 29, 2006 10:38 AM