The Number Of Supervisors

Leesburg Today is reporting that the change in the population count for Loudoun County has thrown the debate about Magisterial (Supervisor) Redistricting into flux.

With Loudoun’s population set at 312,311, an increase of 84.1 percent of its population in the 2000 Census, the county has a population 22,036 higher than anticipated, which changes the sizes and potential boundaries for all eight districts and leaves supervisors with a lot more work to do.

When county staff members were anticipating a population slightly more than 290,000, each election district had a population threshold of just over 36,000. With the actual population topping 312,000, target population for new election districts has increased to 39,039, with wiggle room of plus or minus 5 percent of that number permitted.

The largest discrepancy between staff estimates and the actual population came, as might be expected, in the fast growing Dulles District. Estimated at 71,192, the actual population of the county’s highest growing area is 81,409. On the flip side, the Blue Ridge District’s actual population is 228 people less than the staff estimate. – Leesburg Today

An excellent, and extended, debate over Redistricting has been going on at Supervisor Miller’s blog, Without Supervision. If you want to get into the nitty gritty of potential District lines and census blocks, head over there and join the discussion.

I want to take a moment, however, to address a proposal which had previously been discarded, but is now perhaps back on the table thanks to the population results: Reducing the number of Supervisors.

It was Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) who tossed the biggest wrench into the conversation of redistricting Monday, however. Noting that four of the nine supervisors had announced they would not seek reelection to the board and the board’s interest in keeping “communities of interest” together, Burton asked supervisors to reconsider the number of districts. When the board first began considering the redistricting process supervisors rejected the idea of either reducing or increasing the number of election districts from eight and one at-large seat for the chairman.

“I propose we look seriously at establishing six districts instead of eight. That would put each district at about 52,000. That would create one western district west of Rt. 15. Leesburg would have to extend outside of the town significantly. And it would leave four districts for central and eastern Loudoun,” he said. “It would make it easier to keep communities of interest together. The problems we have agreeing on boundaries and that four [supervisors] who are not coming back, I think that opens up the discussion.” – Leesburg Today

Reducing the number of Supervisors is a terrible idea. Follow below the fold for four reasons why.
First, reducing the number of Supervisors makes the Board of Supervisors less representative, rather than more. With more constituents to represent, each constituent’s voice is that much weaker when speaking to a Supervisor. Similarly, with more ground to cover, each Supervisor is far less likely to be able to actually get out and speak to a significant portion of their District as part of their normal work as a Supervisor. (Remember, these are “part-time” jobs that pay only $42,000 year, in spite of the fact that the workload involved is on par with any public administration full-time position.)

Second, reducing the number of Supervisors would greatly inhibit the ability for a candidate to run for Supervisor and hold a job. Currently, only one of the sitting Supervisors, Supervisor Burk, has held a full-time job throughout her tenure on the Board. All the others either had independent means (for example, Chairman York) or relied on outside sources of income, like their spouse’s jobs, to sustain their livelihoods. The practical upshot of fewer, bigger districts is that a commensurate increase in the time necessary to campaign for office, and then serve in that office. Thus, increased wealth will be necessary to run for them (since that many more constituents will need to be dealt with and campaigned through), as it is highly unlikely a sitting Supervisor could hold down a separate full-time job while doing a good job for their expanded number of constituents.

Basically, only the independently wealthy will be able to run for Supervisor.

Thirdly, reducing the number of Supervisors necessarily implies an increase in the power of the Chair of the Board of Supervisors. Instead of being one vote of nine, but with Agenda setting authority, the Chair would be one vote of seven, with agenda setting Authority.

From a small “r” republican and small “d” democratic perspective, I prefer the authority of my Board Chair more dilute than that.

Finally, the larger the districts, the more powerful the big campaign donor becomes. With larger districts, mailings, media and other paid campaign services become critical. Thus, candidates would need more money. With that, comes the need for more big donors. And from the donor side, with fewer Supervisors to give to, large donors (like developers, for example) can focus their efforts on electing four allies onto the Board (instead of the five, or even six, necessary today) in order to promote their interests.

The bottom line is that fewer Supervisors equals less power per voter, and thus a less representative Board of Supervisors. It’s a bad idea whose time is long past.