Mar 19, 2012

Gresham Council Elections: At Large or Single District?

The Gresham Outlook recently reported on  former Gresham City Councilor Richard Strathern's effort to change that city's council seats from at large to district representation. 
In the article, Gresham City Councilor David Widmark claimed "“I actually was living here in Gresham in the 1980s when we had districts,” Widmark said. “We couldn’t get good, qualified candidates to run. That’s why we changed to at-large; you don’t get some of the stronger candidates who can represent the whole of the issues.”

Widmark failed to mention that Gresham's population in 1980 was 33,000, according to the US Census. As of 2010, Gresham's population is now over 105,000. Gresham, now one of Oregon's largest cities, should have no problem attracting great candidates for district elections of their city council.

There have been many studies showing that a change from at large to district municipal elections attracts more candidates, in addition to providing more positive changes. 

For instance a study of San Francisco's change from at large to district elections showed a greater number of candidates, increased emphasis on neighborhood issues, decreases in campaign expenditures and the influence of mass media, a significant decrease of influence by large businesses, local merchants, and developers, and a significant increase in the influence of neighborhood groups. (Source: The Impact of District Elections: A Case Study, Bruce B. Clary and J. Oliver Williams,

 Outlook reporter Sara Hottman wrote in her "history lesson" section that the Colonial U.S. gradually switched from district elections to at large elections due to corruption in elections. What is her source for this assertion?

Finally I take issue with Hottman's description of the role of the Gresham City Council, "Essentially, they act as a check to the city manager and city staff, who run the city’s daily operations..."

Gresham's City Council is the legislative and policy making body of the city. It also approves the city's annual budget. The City Council hires a City Manager to take care of the day to day operation of the city. It is the City Manager's job to carry out the policies set by the City Council. 

I wish Hottman's editor acted as a "check" to Hottman's facts in this article.

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