Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Legislative Committee To Consider Eliminating Indianapolis Council At-Large Districts

I actually predicted this, though I was surprised that there was no stand-alone bill introduced on the subject.   WIBC is reporting that a an amendment is going to be offered by Rep. Phil Hinkle of Indianapolis to eliminate the four at-large districts on the Indianapolis City-County Council: 
Representative Phil Hinkle
(R) Indianapolis
A House committee should vote either Thursday or next week on eliminating the four at-large council members. Those councillors usually ride into office on the coattails of the mayor, although only two of the four incumbents are Republicans. Minority Leader Joanne Sanders withstood the GOP tide which carried Republican Greg Ballard into office four years ago, while Ed Coleman switched to the Libertarian Party after being elected as a Republican.

The House Government Reform Committee is weighing a bill to merge the last surviving township fire departments in Marion County -- Pike, Wayne and Decatur -- into IFD. Committee Chairman Phil Hinkle (R-Indianapolis), a former councillor, argues it's important to make the council more independent of the mayor to provide a proper counterbalance to his increased power.

Without the at-large seats, Republicans' current 15-13 council majority (with one Libertarian) would slip to 13-12.
...
The reference in the story (and the accompanying headline) contain the nonsensical suggestion that the proposed committee amendment to Senate Bill 526 would cut the Republican majority on the council from 15-13 to 13-12.  Obviously the move would not apply retroactively to those at large councilors already elected and who are in their fourth year of service.  But it almost certainly would apply to those who hope to be elected in 2011.

Knowing Phil Hinkle's independent streak, I take him at his word that he would like the Council to be less of a rubber stamp for the Indianapolis Mayor, regardless of party.  But make no mistake about it...those four at-large seats for now to the foreseeable future will be held by Democrats.  Getting rid of the at-large seats means four less Democrats and gives the Republicans a chance - albeit an outside chance - of holding onto the council.

The Democrats spent thirty years dealing with Republican majorities on the Indianapolis City-County Council which were assisted in no small part by the ever present four at-large Republican councilors. That changed in 2003, when the Democrats won all four at-large seats on the council.  It bounced back in 2007 when  Republicans won three of the four at large seats.  (Republican Ed Coleman later left to become a Libertarian).  The strong Democratic majority in the county though means that for the foreseeable future, those four at-large seats will almost always be controlled by Democrats.

This is an issue that could easily cause the Democrats to return to Urbana.  The Democrats are not likely to sit by and risk permanently losing four at-large Indianapolis council members, members who could tip the balance of control on the council.

15 comments:

Downtown Indy said...

It was hilarious watching Ed Treacy stumble and search for words when Norman Cox asked him how eliminating At-Large seats would adversely affect the minority representation, as Ed had claimed.

Jon E. Easter said...

Why get rid of them, and doesn't this seem awfully political to do this in a municipal election year? I think so!

Paul K. Ogden said...

DI,

Yeah, I don't think the claim it hurts minority representation holds up. Now the D's could complain that the R's are changing the rules that benefitted the R's for so many years now that those rules don't benefit them any more.

Jon E. Easter said...

Paul,
He can't eliminate them now. The absentee ballots are out!

BayernFan said...

Get redistricting done first, then let em go to Urbana for all I care. Keep them there till November 2012.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Jon, those are only absentee ballots for the primary.

I can tell you Phil Hinkle is extremely independent. He didn't do this to make a chairman or theMayor happy but because he thinks it's the right thing to do.

Advance Indiana said...

Hinkle's amendment was drafted by Joe Loftus. You can take it to the bank, Paul.

Advance Indiana said...

I would add that I favor eliminating the at-large council positions as a matter of principle. When I lived in Springfield, Illinois, they had a council/executive form of government where all officials were elected at large. The city spent millions fighting a lawsuit that ended with the system being declared unconstitutional. Blacks won seats on the council for the first time-even more seats than had been anticipated-when a single-member system was implemented. The funny thing was the most upscale, Republican-leaning district elected a black councilman because the Republican Party bosses ran this dive club owner who acted like a mob boss for the seat and a lot of Republicans voted for the black candidate in protest.

Paul K. Ogden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul K. Ogden said...

Gary, I'm not believing Joe Loftus is so dense about politics that he thinks the Republicans will hold onto the council. Even without the at-large seats going to the Ds, it would be a long-short.

Rather what he and B&T will start doing is laying money on the other horse, i.e. Melina Kennedy.

Paul K. Ogden said...

AI,

I would add that I don't see Phil Hinkle palling around with Joe Loftus. That's only a step removed from my palling around with Joe Loftus. I don't agree with Phil Hinkle on everything, but he generally does whatever he wants and detests the Marion County country club political establishment.

Advance Indiana said...

Paul, Loftus is Ballard's paid lobbyist at the State House. Look at the entire amendment, not just the elimination of the at-large councilors. It consolidates the balance of fire departments into IFD, eliminates township boards but retains the township trustees. You can bet that is the plan supported quietly by Ballard as recommended by Loftus.

Paul K. Ogden said...

AI,

I have no doubt that the Loftus, i.e. the Ballard administration, supports the measure. I just doubt Phil Hinkle takes his marching orders from them.

Advance Indiana said...

I'm not saying he takes orders from them, Paul, but has generally been supportive of the administration's initiatives at the legislature, even if he publicly complains about them from time to time.

Citizen Kane said...

They need to reduce the number of council districts. Even 25 would still be too many. With bigger districts, councilors might actually focus on macro issues and be more accountable individually for decisions, instead of fighting each other over crumbs and hiding in the crowd. San Antonio, for example, with 500,000 more people, only has a ten councilors.