Here in America we have a document called the Constitution.
You may have heard of it, although if you have, chances are you are not a New Albany city council person, and may wish to stop reading now lest I offend you.
That is, if you can read at all.
In broad terms, the reason we have a Constitution is to provide a shared legal and conceptual framework that unites Americans from many varied geographical locales and gives them a sense of common purpose.
Admittedly, it has taken quite some time to iron out the rough spots and to apply the precepts of the Constitution equally to all Americans. Indeed, the work continues, and it always will. Rule of law isn’t appealing to criminals, anarchists and four current council persons … but more on that in a moment.
Last evening the city council convened to consider a redistricting ordinance. The ordinance as submitted to the council was derived from the work of a committee. The committee was established for one reason and one reason alone. A previous incarnation of the council had for many years refused to cooperate with mandates set down by the very same Constitution referenced previously, and it had failed in its duty to fairly realign voting districts.
Because the previous council failed so spectacularly to do its job, citizens (of whom I was one) asked a Federal Court to interpret the council’s inactivity. Presiding over that body was a judge, whose job it is to apply Constitutional principles to problems like these, and whose job it is not is to be familiar with irrelevancies ranging from the location of one councilman’s house, whether dogs bark louder before a rainstorm, or the way that one neighbor never really thought highly of the color used by another to paint his house, and always complains about it at the Elks club meetings.
The judge sagaciously considered the previous council’s attitude with regard to its mandate to redistrict, and found it sorely wanting. He examined the previous council’s last-second attempt to implement a redistricting plan contrived in a Geritol-induced haze by the wife of one of its now mercifully retired members, and found that plan sorely wanting, too, because it did not adhere to the principles of the Constitution.
The Constitution. What a concept ... just not here.
In effect, the judge in question laughed the previous council out of court, made the very strong suggestion that it keep the Constitution in mind, and directed it to try again. The committee was approved and was formed, with three at-large councilmen and three community members (only one of whom was involved in the original lawsuit), and the council agreed to consider the results.
Last night, the council wonderfully and delightfully pissed itself.
Diane McCartin-Benedetti argued forcefully that the committee was created for the express purpose of saving her the trouble of doing such work herself … and then she voted against the committee’s work, naturally without explanation.
John Gonder was forced to concede that an unguarded comment about a deck of cards made to colleague Steve Price was justification enough for Price, who hardly needs provocation to make asinine allegations of impropriety, to publicly insult the integrity of committee members who, as you recall, were only doing McCartin-Benedetti’s job for her. But Gonder, a committe member, voted in favor.
Dan Coffey raved and ranted about not playing games, and joined Price in suggesting that this is what happens when you let those evil outsiders come into town. The gallery Coffey had packed with Westendians in an effort to preserve his waning influence by thwarting progress in the district he has chronically neglected had already left, or there may have been a progressive lynched on the spot.
Rather like the White Southern “states rights” folks, who used to passionately argue against the precepts of the Constitution because, well, you just don’t understand the way it has to be with us and the Negroes, and understand that we have our own customs and traditions, and if slavery and prejudice happen to be among these, so be it. It makes our neck of the woods special.
Rather like earlier last evening when a local mail carrier accidentally provided a theme for the meeting by suggesting that the federal judge might have better ignored the Constitution in reaching his decision taking the previous council to task over its refusal to observe the dictates of voter rights and equality. According to the postman, there is something sacred and holy about current configuration of voting districts – something indefinable, yet true in a mystical sort of way. Never mind that the council has been directed to reshape these districts in accordance with reality. Subjectivism -- that's where it's at.
In the end, amid the fear, loathing and sheer Pricist buffoonery, the vote was a tie, 4-4, with Pat McLaughlin absent. There will be two more readings.
Eight people, three local television news channels and the Courier-Journal were at last night’s council meeting, and all but a handful of the public departed after the public hearing on smoking. There’s a Constitutional principle involved in the smoking ban debate, too. All of it goes back to that document.
That is, unless you’re one of the four city council members, including the body’s president, Jeff Gahan, voting against Constitutional principles last evening, and in favor of local self-determination even if it means soiling a parchment all were sworn to uphold.
Sad, but wonderfully and delightfully New Albanian, don’t you think?