Voting is (still) mostly unanimous among Danville city commissioners

Last summer I posted an analysis of the first six-months of voting patterns among Danville city commissioners in formal commission meetings. The bottom-line finding was that despite what the Advocate-Messenger described in May 2011 as an ideological split between the “Gang of Three” (Mayor Hunstad and Commissioners Montgomery and Louis) and the remaining two commissioners (Atkins and Caudill), all five commissioners voted together between 80-90% of the time. Unanimous voting was a little lower in terms of budgeting and fiscal votes (about 70% unanimous) while policy-oriented votes on ordinances and personnel were more than 90% unanimous.

That was six months ago. In the meantime, we’ve had a number of issues arise including the well-publicized turnover of the interim city managers and the eventual hiring of Ron Scott to replace Paul Stansbury. As four of the five commissioners will be up for reelection this November, now would be a good time to re-assess the voting patterns of the current Danville city commissioners.

For this updated analysis, my research assistant Jordan Shewmaker took on the task of collecting information on every official city commission vote that took place between July 25th, 2011 and June 25th, 2012. We added this information to the original dataset of votes from January-July 2011. All in all, there were 692 votes included in this analysis, stretching from the first commission meeting on January 3rd, 2011 to the meeting of June 25th, 2012.

The first major finding is that unanimous voting is now slightly higher than it was a year ago. A full 82.6% of votes have been completely unanimous since the current commission was sworn in, about 2% higher than it was after only six months of voting.

As with the previous analysis, we can break these votes down into three separate categories: 1) procedural votes, 2) fiscal votes (including budget ordinances, paying the bills, approving grant requests, allocating funds, etc.), and 3) policy-oriented votes (including general city ordinances, personnel hiring/firing, appointments to boards, etc.). Here’s where it currently stands after a year and a half:

  • 89.7% of procedural votes were unanimous
  • 72.9% of fiscal votes were unanimous
  • 84% of policy-oriented votes were unanimous

Unanimous voting on procedural and fiscal matters are only a few points higher than they were a year ago, and unanimous votes on policy-oriented issues are down a few points from 91%. Even so, there is still much more agreement than disagreement among our city commissioners.

The relatively few votes where commissioners were not in complete agreement centered on four basic issues: 1) closing Short and Hope Streets for Centre College development, 2) allocating funds to various organizations during budgeting sessions, 3) confirming appointments to various citizens committees (Commissioner Atkins sometimes objects not out of personal disagreement with the appointment, but a stated desire to have more information available before the vote is taken), and 4) the search and hiring process for the new city manager.

But there is still the perception of a major ideological split on the city commission. Last year I showed that, despite perceptions to the contrary, a majority of Hunstad/Montgomery/Louis voted against both Atkins and Caudill only 9.3% of the time. After an additional year of voting, that figure has dropped to a mere 5.5%. In other words, the current commissioners behave as if they were organized political parties for only 1 out of every 20 votes. These happen most often during fiscal/budgetary votes (10.1% of the time) and least often during procedural votes (2.7% of the time).

Indeed, this chart depicts the percentage of partisan-like votes during the last six quarters. It demonstrates that partisan-like voting between Hunstad/Montgomery/Louis and Atkins/Caudill actually occurred more during the first six months of their two-year term than in the entire year that followed:

Finally, we can also see how often the individual members of the commission vote with one another after more than a year and half in office:

  Hunstad Montgomery Louis Atkins
Montgomery

97.3%

     
Louis

95.7%

95.7%

   
Caudill

94.0%

90.9%

94.0%

98.0%

Atkins

90.8%

95.4%

90.3%

 

Compared to a year ago, agreement in voting among the individual commissioners is even higher. No pair of commissioners has voted against each other more than 10% of the time.

In sum, despite a year of controversy over the city manager position and some well-publicized disagreements between commissioners, when it comes to looking at the actual votes that the commissioners take, there persists a great deal of agreement and unanimity. Compared to what I concluded a year ago, there is now even less evidence of a massive, polarized split in Danville’s city commission.

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