City governance with districts

I attended the City Council workshop this morning/afternoon on developing norms of governance for the transition from an at-large Council (each elected by the whole city) to districts.

Council chose to frame the discussion around the premise that Councilmembers (both present and future) should strive to minimize the role of districts in governance and their own conduct. They used a certain word frequently throughout the workshop: “parochialism”.

I understand parochialism to mean an *exclusive* focus on the needs of a particular place, disregarding all others. But the current Councilmembers seemed to agree in including under that pejorative label even the notion of a *particular* (but not exclusive) focus on the needs of the district which elected a given Councilmember. In other words, they took it as given that a Councilmember ought not to regard the residents of their district as their primary constituents, above residents in the rest of the city.

I disagree with this view. I think the relationship between districts, and by extension between the representatives of districts, should be like the relationship between individuals in a community. Each has their own particular experiences, needs, and points of view, and they do and should advocate for themselves (or for the district they represent). But they should also show significant, although limited, willingness to make sacrifices for the whole.

Ignoring the needs of the whole city, or of other districts, does not fit with this. But neither does ignoring the distinction between districts and behaving as if the Council were still at-large. A Councilmember for a district should be a negotiator and advocate for their district – but a fair-minded one, not an absolutist.

Incidentally, the view of at least some if not all of the current Councilmembers regarding BART governance fits their own usage of “parochialism”. They have indicated a strong belief that the BART Directors for the two BART districts in Concord (Joel Keller and Debora Allen) should not be thinking primarily of the entire BART system or the whole Bay Area, but rather of our particular needs in suburban/semi-urban Contra Costa.

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