This month I introduced a proposition to change the City Charter to increase the number of council districts from the current nine to 11. If approved by the City Council, the proposition would go before the voters to decide in the Nov. 5 municipal election.
In 1974, with Albuquerque’s population at approximately 260,000, our city government was changed to a mayor/council form of government, with an elected chief executive (mayor) and a legislative branch made up of nine city council persons. Today, our population has more than doubled to 585,000 people.
In 2005 when I first served, the office of councilor was commonly described as a “part-time job.” I continued to work in my “regular job” at my small architecture firm. As time went on, I realized that serving effectively and responsively entailed much more than what most people would consider part-time work.
After redistricting following the 2010 Census, my council work became much more complex. Over the objections of residents, the two council districts covering the city’s center and North Valley were packed into the largest and most diverse district in Albuquerque. Today’s District 2 contains almost all of the city’s “pocket of poverty” neighborhoods, most of its designated Redevelopment Areas, its Downtown, Old Town and the historically rural North Valley. In “census-speak,” these are considered unique “communities of interest” deserving of particular representation.
The redistricting process raised many concerns regarding dilution of voting strength, particularly among minorities. Eventually, I phased out my architecture work and dedicated my efforts to representing my district full time.
Constituent and neighborhood inquiries, requests, and complaints to my office are constant and continue to increase. Our district’s one dedicated policy analyst and I now work full-time to keep up with the needs of the district, but that’s still not enough. My office strives daily to address needs that result from historic disinvestment in minority and under-served neighborhoods. Several other councilors have the same challenges – like ours, their districts include neighborhoods that feel they do not receive adequate, equitable attention from the city. Concerns are often expressed about the equity of city services in some of the unique, old and disadvantaged neighborhoods throughout Albuquerque with the oldest and poorest infrastructure.
The 2011 redistricting put the population of Council District 2 at over 60,000 persons. District 2 includes over 50 registered neighborhood associations. In New Mexico House districts, the average population represented is 25,600, with six districts overlapping District 2. In state Senate districts, average population is 49,000 and four districts overlap District 2. The House and Senate meet one to two months per year on important state and community matters. The City Council meets 11 months a year and ongoing needs within the city of Albuquerque require prompt attention 365 days a year.
This proposal would bring us in line with similarly-sized cities. In U.S. cities of comparable population to ours, the average population per city council representative is approximately 52,986. In Albuquerque today, this would equate to 11 districts. While District 2 is currently the most populous district, all Albuquerque citizens would benefit from smaller districts.