Tuesday, October 03, 2006

School board to remain at-large

Charlottesville, Va.-- Monday night, the 5-member at-large City Council voted unanimously to continue at-large elections for the 7-member school board. The first election of school board members occurred May 2 when Leah Puryear, Juandiego Wade and Ned Michie were elected. The next school board election will be November '07.

The 4 ward/3 at-large appointment system of representation morphed into solely at-large following the November 8 referendum to compel a switch to an elected school board. City Attorney Craig Brown argued then that the appointment system had been at-large all along even though the appointments were not.

Leading up to the referendum, all 5 Democratic city councilors opposed elected school boards and now oppose the system they supported. The Daily Progress reporter left just as this final item #7 came to the floor around 9:30pm.

Voter Registrar Sheri Iachetta asked Council to select one of three options.

(1) Continue at-large elections until after November '07.

(2) Create 4 resident districts where candidates would be elected at-large citywide. This would require a city charter amendment.

(3) Reinstate the 4 ward/3 at-large system except all board members would be directly elected. This would require a city charter amendment and approval from the U.S. Department of Justice of the drawing of election districts. Appointment districts are not regulated.

The first report was presented to Council by task force chairman Lloyd Snook on August 7. The 8-member commission was created February 21.

Regardless of the decision, Iachetta asked Council to realign the precinct boundaries because of projected growth and because of a proposed regulation that may require more voter machines. Currently, one machine is required for every 750 voters. The change would require one per 300 voters.

The Tonsler precinct would be most impacted, needing 7 machines. Iachetta said the current polling place at Tonsler Park on Cherry Avenue would not be big enough and no site within the precinct is large enough. So the new boundary should be drawn so as to enclose an appropriate polling site.

The present boundaries were drawn in 1963 following the annexation of Barracks Road Shopping Center. There are 4 populous and 4 sparsely populated precincts. Each ward was divided into a large and a small precinct. For example, in Ward 3 Tonsler has 1,400 voters while Jefferson Park Avenue has 3,600, said Iachetta. If no one is elected from a precinct, Justice Department approval is not needed to change the boundary.

Before voting, each councilor repeated already discredited arguments for the at-large position.

Dave Norris said the city is not large enough for wards. Yet the city is the same size as it was last year when school board members were appointed by ward. Norris wants every member to feel accountable to every student. So instead of taking a complaint to your representative, you'll have to complain to all 7 members and hope one of them doesn't think a different member is addressing your concern.

Kendra Hamilton wondered why there was so little interest with such a small group in attendance at this late hour. In her logic, if you have 2 hearings and 100 people attend the first and 5 attend the second, only 5 people are interested in this issue, not 105. She seems to have forgotten the public hearing in November following the referendum.

(CvilleWeekly reported on Hamilton's racial slur at the November 21 meeting. But the article has either been moved or removed from the news magazine's website. "I never thought that I, as a black woman, would be reduced to explaining to a bunch of white people that I know what I’m talking about." http://www.c-ville.com/www/archives/2005/11-29-2005/asp/3.asp )

Hamilton did not attend the first report August 7. Similarly, Hamilton was disrespectful on January 8, 2005, when she mumbled "Let's get it out of the way" as Council Election Task Force Chairman Sean O'Brien approached the podium to discuss representation at the Council level.

Kevin Lynch said geographical diversity is not one of his top 3 or 4 diversity concerns. He would have no problem with Virginia having 4 senators and West Virginia none, as long as he lived in Virginia. Lynch said ward politics brings out the worst in both parties, implying that at-large politics is a pleasant endeavor. I think he meant to say-- politics brings out the worst. It's like an apple disparaging an orange because the orange is a fruit.

Julian Taliaferro has seen ward politics in action and it's not a pretty sight. The same logic would be to say, I had a bad experience with a Chevrolet, so don't buy a Chevy.

Mayor David Brown was concerned about low voter turnout, uncontested seats and unopposed elections. Apparently he doesn't pay attention to elections of the at-large Council of which he is a member. Again, apple calling the orange a fruit.

To his credit, Brown pointed out that last year under the appointment system, there were 3 board members who resided on the south side of town. Following the May election, there are now 2. In November '07, all school board members will likely be residents on the north side.

Task force member Rauzelle Smith spoke during the public comment, but not about the school board. He asked Council to consider a new ordinance, similar to the snow removal from sidewalks ordinance, to require property owners to rake and bag their leaves to prevent leaves from blowing into yards already raked and storm drains already cleared of debris.

"School board study: only wards can guarantee diversity", Aug 8, 2006

"Task force studies how to elect school board", May 19, 2006

Task force members:

Charles “Buddy” Weber, Republican
Loren Intolubbe, League of Women Voters
Leroy Hamlett, Former electoral board chair
Lloyd Snook, Chair, Democrat
Rauzelle Smith, Vice Chair, Former school board chair
Karen Waters, Quality Community Council
Tom Vandever, Former mayor
Ken Stroupe, Center for Politics


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