Just what is wrong with District 5?

Now, I ought to start out by saying I am not looking to pick a fight with several thousand people in western Odessa, or one woman in particular: Sandra Carrasco. She seems like a lovely person, and the residents of District 5 (generally all lovely people, too, I’m sure) will no doubt be lucky to have her as soon as she’s sworn in and starts to represent them.

I just want to make that clear.

Because in the past few years, there have been two tragic deaths by sitting councilmen in that district, and both times, only one person ended up wanting the job. There is something monumentally troubling about this.

In any case, for that to work you still need options. You need the possibility to make a good choice at the ballot box, or at least an alternative. You need a standard of comparison. You need a race to try to verify if someone is completely unqualified for the role, in part to motivate the media to use some of our limited resources to participate in the public vetting process. Foregone conclusions are much less likely to get that.

We often criticize or mock local government without acknowledging that it’s an unprestigious and difficult hobby with few benefits and very many responsibilities. Considering what local representatives have to put up with, the time and effort it takes, and the media scrutiny and general criticism they receive for decisions made at public meetings absolutely no one bothers to attend — considering that, why anyone would want to serve their community in such a way is something rather mysterious and, if we’re completely honest, possibly clinical.

But some do. Someone, hopefully several someones in a given area, think they’re qualified to go sit on a bunch of committees, study a lot of material, and decide how best to spend the city’s common money for the common good of the people. In District 5, should Carrasco win the lottery during her term and abruptly vacant her seat to move to a mansion in one of the nicer suburbs of Austin (I am being optimistic), would anyone care to replace her? If Benjamin Velasquez ran again, would anyone care to oppose him now that Roy Hunton is no longer with us?

When we talk about spreading democracy around the world, it would be nice if we had a bit more of it here, is all I’m saying. Otherwise we should just let Mayor Larry Melton exercise good judgment and appoint people. Many people all over the city probably would not care or notice.

Again, Ms. Carrasco isn’t the problem. Neither is Filiberto Gonzales, who at least cared enough to file before dropping out. Neither, even, is Velasquez, who at least wanted the job.

They’re islands in the great ocean of apathy that is the local political system of America. The trouble with District 5 really isn’t that apathy is the rule, but that there are so few exceptions to it.

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