The anachronistic politics of at-large voting

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 12/19/2013, midnight

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School District School board was considering whether to hold a special election or appoint someone, like a superbly qualified George McKenna, Ed.D., to serve out the term of the recently departed and very effective board member, Marguerite LaMotte.

Hopefully, the Board reached a positive decision. Dr. McKenna would be an excellent educational representative for Los Angeles children and parents. He has a super resume.

However, this article is not really about Dr. McKenna and the L.A. Unified Board. It is really about what seems to still be the problem with the L.A. Community College District Board. That agency still resists logical, progressive change. The board still refuses to abandon at-large voting, although it has been demonstrated over and over again that that anachronism is a hindrance to real democracy and political fair play.

The board’s authority to keep using at-large tactics comes from a state statue, which is very hard to change from the outside. A fair-minded political leader like new State Sen. Holly Mitchell would have to champion the cause and get legislation passed to repeal that statue, and here’s hoping she and her California Legislative Black Caucus members will do that. If you see her, ask her about it. It’s way past time to deep six the board’s obstreperous attitude about making that change.

To look at a persistent consequence of this bad board policy, consider L.A. Southwest College, which currently looks partially like an experimental yard for bomb explosions and not a thriving, healthy and renovated school in the modern age. In this convoluted scenario, what is striking, however, is that virtually no real construction work seems to be getting done, or at least not getting done at any deliberate speed, to repair or eliminate the stripped buildings, barricaded web netting and cracked concrete. This is supposed to be one of L.A.’s finest post-secondary schools, not a constant reminder of what parts of Harlem, U.S.A. looks like.

The Los Angeles Community College Board (LACCB) recently decided to pull the plug on all college renovations in progress under its authority. Three contractors were found to be allegedly fraudulent, so the board put all of its rebuilding contractors on pause.

Part of the problem is that this has been the case for more than 16 months at Southwest College, so students have had to regularly figure out what new route has been set up to move back and forth to class. The other part of the problem is that even when the board decision was made to reengage the contractors, someway, somehow, LASC still got the short end of the stick, and its bomb-shelter façade continues to this day.

Within the LACCD, LASC is basically the last Black majority college, considering both student population and teachers. West L.A. probably has as many or more African American students, but it has only a handful of Black American faculty and academic staff. There are those who say LASC’s days as such a Black majority school are numbered and should be counted in months, not years.