Common Council

Ever hear of a Common Council? In Roanoke?

And no, I am not referring to a council of like-minded rich uppity white people.

Believe it or not, at one time this city had a Common Council, elected from 4 wards (oops. there's that word again).

From 1908:

Highland Ward

Jefferson Ward

Kimball Ward

Melrose Ward

4 Wards - each with 6 elected representatives, 24 total. No city manager. Through World War 1, this city had Wards. It was not until 1918 that the city adopted (by vote) the current Council-City Manager system, and even then - it was for the sole purpose of handling the day to day operations of a quickly growing city.

The Wards vanished sometime after WWI, and the "at-large" system has held sway since. The "at-large" system of elections can be a useful one, when the population is well balanced and altruistic in it's intentions. But once you get an imbalance, as happened when a good chunk of the city lost jobs and housing - and a impermanent population - you have a problem.

At that point it's easy for one group, or one mindset to take control. And thats when the population "at-large" becomes disenfranchised.

With the Ward system, it becomes much harder for an organized take-over like that to occur. Sure you can always buy a vote or two, but in the long run - you will not get the same overwhelming results as you do with the "At-large" system.

Now, that being said - the Common Council vs. City Council, leaving aside the "at-large" bits. Common Council is the preferred label of Syracuse, Buffalo, Madison, Danbury, Racine, And Los Angeles. City Council is the label of Cities like New York City - but the difference between the two is minimal. At least in normal places.

Roanoke's own City Council is, as we said, elected "at-large" across the board. The New York City Council is elected by district, with the Mayor being elected at-large. And a number of Common Council's elected officials are by district, with 2 or 3 seats being at-large for balance. Some of them even separate the election of Mayor from the rest of the Council, for safety purposes.

Probably one of the wisest options of all really. Our own "at-large" council is the very thing that cripples us, singular interests - not even all that special, really. Just singular.

So tell me, which is better? Which would be ripe for growth? The answer is fairly simple.

Coming up soon, an entirely new series of "New Roanoke" articles - otherwise known as Rke2.0

Hide your councilpeople.. this could get ugly.

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