Is Incumbent Gerrymandering Alive And Well in Stallings, NC?
On Feb. 11th and 25th the subject of “voting districts” was on the agenda for Stallings council meetings. For those who aren’t familiar with the serious nature of the subject it would be worthwhile to listen to the audio of the meetings by going to the Town of Stallings website and referring to the archived minutes and agendas for the Feb. 11th and 25th meetings.
Harry Stokes, Shawna Steele, Fred Weber and Reed Esarove are adamantly opposed to rebalancing the six voting districts, (actually residency districts) before the November 2013 elections. Stallings has not balanced voting districts since 2001, even though tremendous growth from annexations, new developments and population increases has changed to the point where our voting districts are seriously out of balance by 129%.
It was amazing to hear Steele and Esarove’s comments, which included words such as “inappropriate”, “gerrymandering”, “Chicago style politics”, and fear of the perception that council would be accused of trying to influence who is elected.
There is a term for what the majority on Stallings town council is trying to cram down Stallings citizen’s throats. It is called “incumbent gerrymandering.” Incumbent gerrymandering is most evident in districts 1 and 2, because reduced electoral competition produces “safe” seats for pre-selected individuals. It also reduces voter turnout by diminishing the chance that an individual solitary vote can change the outcome of an election. Gerrymandering in districts I and 2 reduces the chances for a newcomer in either of those districts to be elected because it increases campaign costs by making it harder to build name recognition across districts that wander far and wide over an area seven miles long. This gives incumbents Stokes and Esarove an even bigger advantage, and restricts opportunities for other citizens to become involved in the electoral process.
To ensure that no further action on changes in district boundaries would take place this year Fred Weber succeeded in getting his motion passed to table discussions on district rebalancing until after the November elections. Weber brags about being “independent” and not influenced by others on how he votes. It is interesting to note that neither Weber nor Steele, to my knowledge, ever voted on any motion in opposition to Stokes and Esarove. The outcome is always 4 to 2, with Dunn and Frost in the minority.
Harry Stoke and Reed Esarove helped Steele and Weber get elected. It appears those favors are now being returned. Surprisingly Stokes offered financial assistance to both Weber, (my opponent) and me, suggesting an attempt to buy influence no matter who won. I refused his offer to avoid any future obligation. Since Weber and Steele were seated on council many controversial and expensive changes have been made, such as the generous contract extension for the town manager, firing and replacing the police chief, and use of patrol cars for long commutes by town policemen living outside the area. All these items involve increased expense to taxpayers.
It is an insult to the intelligence of the Stallings electorate to ignore obvious malapportionment in residency districts, which is clearly spelled out in the town charter, as well as NC General Statutes. The brazen attempt to ignore discrepancies in district population balance makes one wonder who or what is behind such an agenda.
I firmly believe it is time for a referendum to allow Stallings residents to have input in the manner for structuring voting districts, and whether or not we have at-large seats on council. Since Stallings has an unusual geographic makeup it may be a good idea to consider dividing the town into 4 voting districts, with two at- large seats to compose the six member council. A hybrid system such as this would legally require rebalancing after every US Census, while our present residency districts legally do not have to meet state and federal statutes.
Stallings citizens need to get actively involved, demand objective, precise criteria to which any district map must comply in order to eliminate “incumbent gerrymandering now, as well as in future elections.
Stallings will be electing a mayor and four council members in November, 2013. Candidates will begin filing for office from July 5th to July 13th, 2013. If we are going to do anything to get more effective, honest, transparent representation time is running short.
Concerned Stallings resident and voter