It takes a big person to admit a mistake

by Brian Clarey


Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan and Mayor Bill Knight deserve credit for heeding the call of the citizens and agreeing to reconsider the unfortunate redistricting plan approved last Tuesday. Both the plan and the process were rotten.

First the process: District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny was appointed by council to serve as redistricting liaison. He held two public input sessions in early March. Considering that redistricting is not constitutionally required, the consensus was that council should take no action. Then, on a Friday evening four days before the next meeting, the city released a redistricting plan submitted by District 4 Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw. The plan was not on the agenda, but appeared suddenly as an addendum near the end of the meeting.

Council members heard passionate and eloquent arguments for why the plan was wrong for Greensboro. Then, a narrow majority voted to approve the plan, which would have moved 32,037 voters and reduced the population variance by a mere 2.2 percentage points. None of the four members who voted for the plan — Rakestraw, Mayor Bill Knight, Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan and District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade — offered any explanation after the vote, treating the matter as if it were no more controversial than approving a federal grant for street maintenance.

Rakestraw’s subsequent claim that the plan appeared on her doorstep in the middle of the night has become the butt of many jokes.

Vaughan ended up salvaging this debacle. It takes a good leader to recognize and own up to a mistake, and that’s all we can ask for. The mayor pro tem told us that initially she believed the now discredited plan evolved from an earlier one initiated by Matheny based on citizen input. After speaking to Matheny, who was in Atlanta on business during the vote, she said she realized her assumption had been incorrect.

Knight also made the right call by agreeing almost immediately to join Vaughan in reconsidering the plan. Of course, Vaughan’s defection meant that there were no longer the votes to uphold the Rakestraw plan, but give the mayor credit for leading through consensus instead of losing through stubborn pride.

And yet the three original backers of this plan who are running for reelection this year and undoubtedly avail themselves of the consulting services of Bill Burckley — the stork-cartographer? — have sustained political damage that might not be undone before voters go to the polls in November. In particular, voters in progressive-leaning Lindley Park that Rakestraw tried to offload into District 1 are likely to vote in stronger numbers and with more passion for her opponent this year than they did in 2009.

It’s heartening to see virtually the entire council pledge to have a transparent process. Vaughan and Danny Thompson, who are both at-large members, want to provide leadership. Matheny is selling himself as a mediator between Rakestraw and District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small.

Do us a favor: Let the city’s excellent staff draw up a rational plan designed to serve the voters’ representational needs rather than to protect politicians’ high-performing voting blocs or coveted real estate such as the Greensboro Coliseum.

Redistricting must be the people’s business.

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