The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

7 September 2004

Ward to your mother

Oklahoma City is divided into eight wards of roughly similar population (65,000 or so), each of which is represented on the City Council. Tulsa has a similar system with nine wards. Ken Neal, writing in the Tulsa World, says this system represents "ward politics of the worst kind," and wants to replace it with a convoluted mess where the nine wards will be consolidated into four, and the five other councilors will be elected at large.

"In effect," says Neal, the current system demands that councilors "are elected to try to put their district ahead of the overall welfare of the city." I don't live in Tulsa and don't have a grounding in Nealspeak, but I'll attempt a translation: "How can we do Great Things for this town if we keep having to piddle around with the petty needs of mere citizens?"

Ward politics by nature is fractious. For many years in Oklahoma City it was the three southside wards (3, 4 and 5) versus the rest of the city. But changing population patterns have changed the Council: parts of Ward 3 now extend as far north as NW 36th, and Wards 6 and 7 dip as far south as SW/SE 44th. Still, any city has limited resources, and this city in particular has to spread them over an incredible distance, so I'm inclined to think the residents of a ward would rather have someone sitting at the horseshoe who has some actual interest in that ward.

Michael Bates predicts the results of Neal's proposed charter change in Tulsa:

This should ensure that no one can be elected to the City Council without a pile of money and the endorsement of the Tulsa Whirled. It would also make it very difficult for the district councilors to represent their constituents effectively, which would be fine with the Whirled. Mr. Neal would no doubt hope that the Councilors elected under the new system would understand that their job is to represent the entrenched interests that financed their expensive campaigns, not the interests of ordinary Tulsans.

And I'm still concerned with Neal's tossed-off phrase: "the overall welfare of the city." If you can't get five councilors to buy such and such a proposal, maybe it's not so good for the overall welfare after all, huh?

Posted at 9:33 AM to Soonerland


In my opinion, the opinions of editors and columnists at any major city's most widely-read daily newspaper should be disregarded out of hand -- especially in terms of civic reform.

Media opinionmakers tend to be members of the local elite, and what they regard as "the overall welfare of the [community]" is almost always whatever enhances the wealth, position and comfort of their circle.

And on the national scene this same phenomenon plays out on that scale. So...

Posted by: McGehee at 11:14 AM on 7 September 2004

And Tulsa has one other quirk: it's only had this form of government for fourteen years. (Prior to that, Tulsa was run on the commission scheme, merging executive and legislative functions in a single body.) They've hardly had time to see ward politics at its worst.

Posted by: CGHill at 12:24 PM on 7 September 2004

Our old County Commissioners were all elected at-large (prior to merger, which replaced them and the city Aldermen w/ Council reps elected solely by district). That meant that while they nominally represented one area, the Commissioners didn't have to give a hoot about it. The scheme did nothing except ensure that the Democrats always won, even in the district that was overwhelmingly Republican.

Posted by: Dodd at 11:13 PM on 7 September 2004