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City Council Questions the Legitimacy of the Residence of District 7 Alderman

Long time readers of the Periscope know that we try to hold off on publishing an article until we have “all” of the facts.  We are going to break tradition with that standard by commenting on the alleged residency question surrounding newly-appointed Alderman Aaron Bailey—In short, there are serious questions surrounding whether he lives in the district that he is representing.  The racial justice group Crusaders of Justicia issued a press release yesterday offering commentary on this issue, and the Periscope Group is responding in kind, both to the Crusaders of Justicia release, as well as our own experiences with this issue.

Part of the reason we are publishing now is because things are moving quickly and we want to be timely, and part is by our frustration out of waiting and waiting for the City to give us the information that we have plainly requested—If we keep waiting to comment before we receive the information, we could easily lose our opportunity.

Even though the Crusaders of Justicia issued a press release, which I assume to be public, I don’t have explicit permission to reprint it here, so I will urge—no, exhort—readers to visit their website to read the press release dated October 26, 2020 and titled “City Secretly Funds Investigation Against First Black Alderperson”.  The rest of this article will lean heavily on that press release, so it may not make much sense unless you have read it first.

I agree with about half about what the press release states and/or argues, and disagree with the other half.  I will organize this article within that framework.

What I Agree With

Two or three paragraphs of the press release express frustration with the City of Manitowoc for giving the appearance (and I’m being generous here) of withholding information.  Both Justicia and the Periscope made extremely clear Freedom of Information requests, and the information that we received back was less than complete.  Yes, we did receive documents that suggested, quite strongly, that Ald. Bailey does not live in District 7.  A private investigator was hired to verify this. A copy of the report is available below that was obtained from the City of Manitowoc pursuant to open records request laws.

However, both requesting parties clearly stated that we wanted records that led up to this investigation.  How was it initiated?  Who hired, and who paid for, the private investigator?  Were any attempts made to discuss this matter with Ald. Bailey—and thereby resolve it quietly–either before or after the investigator was hired?  Nobody knows, because we have not received the information from the City.  This withholding gives the impression that the City is, as Justicia suggests, acting in secret. 

What I Don’t Agree With

The rest of the Justicia press release posits that the investigation into Ald. Bailey’s residency is “structural racism”.  They argue that residency requirements (such as a district-based aldermanic system) are inherently racist and exclude underrepresented groups from participating in government.  They seem to argue that it really doesn’t matter where Ald. Bailey actually lives.

This is wacky, and it’s not racist to think so.  Manitowoc has had a district-based aldermanic system for many years.  Individuals who want to be on the City Council must live in the district that they strive to represent.  In fact, Ald. Bailey was named to the Council because he lived (or maybe still lives?) in District 7.  He would have never been allowed to apply to be on the Council unless he lived in that district.

You can reasonably argue whether it’s fair to have a district-based system.  Advocates of this system like the idea that every City resident has an alderman who is also their neighbor, and is familiar with the issues facing that neighborhood.  Opponents of the system favor an at-large system, where the alderman are chosen from the entire City.  Two Rivers has an at-large system.  Proponents argue that you want the best people representing you, regardless of where they live.  Politics at the local, state, and national level tend to rely on a district system, but as I mentioned, it’s fair to argue either side.

What is disingenuous, however, is to try to change the rules in the middle of the game and then claim racism or discrimination when the other side simply holds fast on the agreed-upon rules.  The residency requirements are clearly codified and Ald. Bailey adhered to them when he first applied to the Council.  He cannot now argue that he has a right to stay on the Council if he no longer lives in the district.  Consider if I went over to a friend’s house to play poker.  In the first hand, there is a big jackpot and I have a pair of sevens while another player has a straight.  If I was to use Justicia’s logic, I could claim that I won the pot, even though I joined the game with the clear understanding that a straight outranks a pair of sevens.  In other words, I could not change the rules of the game midway through and then claim that I was being discriminated against if the other players stopped me from getting away with it.

My Takeaway

To me, this issue comes down to a simple question:  Does Ald. Bailey live in District 7?  If he doesn’t, then he must resign his position, period.  It’s not a racist issue, it’s a residency issue.  If you think that the district-based aldermanic system is inherently racist, it’s a fair point to argue perhaps, but it’s separate. 

The racism claims—or threats of such—seem to be making the City overly cautious and moving in slow motion.  It seems to me that the easy way to handle this would have been for the Mayor to privately confront Ald. Bailey about this accusation.  Ald. Bailey could have resigned and could have issued a statement that he was doing so because he no longer lived in the district.  He could have added that he planned to run in a different district at a later time.  This happens quite often on the Council.  Recently, Ald. Todd Lotz resigned because he was moving out of District 7 (the district the Ald. Bailey now represents), and Ald. Bruce Jacobs resigned because he was moving out of District 10.  As a further example, I can think of two aldermen who have represented two different districts because they moved.  When they moved, they resigned their post in their old district, then ran and won a spot on the Council in their new district.  Again, the idea is:  You need to live in a district to represent it.  This is not racist.

I suspect that the City did try to handle this quietly, but Ald. Bailey escalated and levied the racism claim.  The Council is meeting again tonight (October 27) in closed session to discuss this issue.  Maybe some resolution will be reached, and maybe we can finally find out what really happened?  

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