Judge Griffen: End at-large city elections | Arkansas Blog

Judge Griffen: End at-large city elections

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WENDELL GRIFFEN: End at-large representation.
  • WENDELL GRIFFEN: End at-large representation.
I wrote a column last week about the feel-good Chamber of Commerce-backed idea to repeal a 1957 pro-segregation resolution of the Little Rock city board. I wrote that a more meaningful symbol of a desire to end systemic bias would be repeal of at-large election of city board members. It is a system by which the business establishment keeps a stranglehold on city government and produces a 70 percent white board in a majority-minority city.

Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen joins me today, with a letter urging a similar course. He said, in part:

Rather than an ordinance repealing a dead declaration that nobody cares about (but which should never be forgotten or excused), we ought to propose and lobby for passage of an ordinance that ends the three at-large city directors and have all city directors elected from fairly drawn voting wards. That ordinance would address ongoing systemic bias and have real impact on how power is held and wielded in the capitol city of Arkansas.

Read on for full letter.

LETTER FROM WENDELL GRIFFEN:

Thanks for your column last week on the ongoing charade to repeal the 1957 declaration by Little Rock City Directors that supported Orval Faubus. I thought you might be interested in my email message to Steve Copley and other faith leaders after Ruth Shepherd asked us to contact city directors about the repeal ordinance:

With all due respect to Ruth Shepherd, Charles Stewart, and anyone else behind the repeal effort, I respectfully disagree with it, am offended by it, and will publicly denounce it.

Repealing the ordinance can't and won't undo a single injustice associated with what Little Rock did to support Orval Faubus in 1957. It won't do anything to eradicate present systemic bias. It will simply amount to window dressing for the cultural incompetence and calculated injustice that characterizes how Little Rock operates.

Governor Faubus seized on that cultural incompetence and tolerance for calculated injustice in his reaction to the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Little Rock civic, religious, and business leaders followed Faubus in 1957 in much the same way they followed the 2011 sales tax appeal by Mayor Stodola and the Chamber of Commerce.

Rather than an ordinance repealing a dead declaration that nobody cares about (but which should never be forgotten or excused), we ought to propose and lobby for passage of an ordinance that ends the three at-large city directors and have all city directors elected from fairly drawn voting wards. That ordinance would address ongoing systemic bias and have real impact on how power is held and wielded in the capitol city of Arkansas.

This repealer effort is merely a "feel good" exercise, an attempt to erase ugly history. History, ugly and otherwise, can't be changed by a cover-up. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments didn't try to erase slavery. Instead they were ratified to end and address the systemic injustices slavery carried.

What Orval Faubus did in 1957 (including the unjust declaration enacted by Little Rock directors) can't be erased. Nobody should try to cover it up, defend it, or rehabilitate the City's image on account of it. It happened. It was unjust. And it was widely supported by politicians, business, religious, and civic leaders.

Rather than turning over the political graves of Orval Faubus and the misguided people who supported him, we should invest our time and efforts in confronting and correcting present injustices. Passing an ordinance to repeal the 1957 declaration takes no courage, corrects no wrong, and changes no injustices suffered because of that declaration. Little Rock won't be a bit more just whether the 1957 declaration is repealed or not.

We profess to be agents of social justice. Let's not waste our time exhuming a dead ordinance. No one should celebrate passage of an ordinance to repeal a dead ordinance when we have living injustices to face and fight.

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