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City Council, March 8

Applause for Council from a harsh critic
City preparing for redistricting
Marc Knapp

Mohammed Idrees is one in the small group of citizens that regularly attend Council meetings. He rises frequently and most times has harsh words for Council. We are on opposite sides of the political spectrum and predictably, I disagree with him frequently. But last night, was not one of those occasions.

In Citizens Participation, Mr. Idrees commented that in his view, the present Council was the best he had witnessed in the long years he had been attending Council meetings. He welcomed division, “the raising of hell”, and the questioning of the Mayor and City ordinances. Division was healthy, he said. He thought the Mayor was a better Mayor because of it.

There was no applause at the end of the speech, but there was something akin to a loud murmur of approval. And perhaps there was relief that there was not the usual acrimony in his delivery, but seemingly only sincerity.

Okay, I am a frequent critic of Council and the Mayor. And there is still much to criticize. But Mohammed may be right. There have been outstanding people that served on Council in the past but their voices were overwhelmed too often by those of other Council members who seemed to serve the Mayor rather than citizens. The present Council has shown a true independence and even those that might be described as close to the Mayor, have often opposed the Mayor on issues.

The election of a number of new members in the last four years has made the difference in encouraging independent views. Council members Mallard and Gregorie have probably been the most conspicuous in opposing the Mayor. Often we have agreed with their stances. But we think that too often Council member Mallard has been offensive and Council member Gregorie long winded. But neither has been daunted by opposition from the Mayor.

We should also recognize the actions of Council members Alexander and White. They probably have taken the Mayor’s side more frequently than Council members Mallard and Gregorie, but always because of reason and not emotion. Both have strongly opposed the Mayor on certain issues and always have they gone to great length to explain the reasons for their views. And maybe we should say something similar for Council members Seekings, Riegel and Hallman.

We think the new members have given courage to some of the longer serving Council members. Council member Lewis has often been a lone voice on Council but now he has more friends, with Council member Gregorie and Mitchell, and his tone is more strident. Even Council member Gallant, so often a consistent supporter of the Mayor has often turned critic in recent years. Indeed some of his encounters with the Mayor have been very heated. The change in his attitude may have more to do with the Sofa Super Store fire than anything else.

Council members Wilson and Waring more consistently support the Mayor than other Council members, but not always. Council member Wilson has opposed him on some occasions as has Council member Waring, but less so. Generally both have offered explanations for their vote when the issues have been controversial

Which leaves us with Mayor Riley! We think the Mayor has changed over the years, and particularly in recent years. He is far more attentive, receptive and responsive in our view. Some may say that the change has not gone far enough. It may be true, but the change has already gone a long way. The scope of the change is debatable as is the cause – was it the transformed Council, or a legacy of the grief caused by the Sofa Super Store fire? Whatever the cause, we again agree with Mohammed. The Mayor is a better Mayor now than he was. But he certainly is not beyond criticism.

Preparing for redistricting
There was little else of note before Council.The Mayor seems to have thought differently. He had the technical folks set up a phone link so he could participate in the meeting whilst journeying from Columbia. This is a first in my experience. He arrived at the Council meeting about half an hour after it started.

One of the issues discussed last night was redistricting. We spoke of it in our coverage of the Council meeting two weeks ago. Last night, a resolution was before Council setting the guidelines for the redistricting, Some Council members did not like the wording so the resolution was tabled to allow staff to further study the issue. A number of Council members wanted the language to be tightened to be sure that the redistricting meets the Voter Registration Act, and to lessen the prospect of a law suit alleging that the act was not fully conformed with

Council Mallard was vociferous in his request of the Mayor for staff to provide more information as to plans and procedure. This would be provided at the next Council meeting he was told. He also pointed to the difficulties that lay ahead as Council began deliberations to shift boundaries to make the contained voter registration populations more equitable.

We don’t know what Council will decide but it seems to us that some of the smaller districts, with a high proportion of minorities will see a dilution of this proportion. It could also lead a reduction on the number of African American Council members.



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