“The black community makes up 17.5 percent of the population,” Dowdell said. “So can I, as one city councilman, represent that racial makeup? Auburn has not had two blacks on its city council since the early ‘70s or ‘60s. It’s time for a change, and they know it.”
Currently, the City Council includes eight white members and one black member.
Dowdell brought this issue to attention in the city council meeting on Tuesday, May 18, where it received feedback.
“I think there is certainly adequate representation for any ethnic or religious group on the city council,” Council member Dick Phelan of Ward 6 said. “In this community, I think it’s somewhat of a non-issue, but obviously Councilman Dowdell doesn’t agree with that.”
Dowdell said he wants to see, if possible, a five-member council with three council members having voting powers, and the mayor having no voting powers.
“I think the mayor should be a presiding officer, not a voting officer,” Dowdell said. “If he’s going to have to have voting powers, then we should have a seven-member council with the mayor voting and being one of those seven. I think that would be fair, with two of the council members being black.”
To Phelan, addressing the representation of minorities could lead to the issue of women’s representation.
“If you go by Dowdell’s analogy, then you would have to say there should probably be more women on the City Council, but I don’t think the one woman that serves on the council is ready to go to court to ensure that four women get on the council,” Phelan said.
Council member Sheila Eckman of Ward 2 is currently the only female on the council.
Dowdell said he would consider taking the matter to court.
“It doesn’t mean we have anything personal against anybody,” Dowdell said. “It means that we will let a jury decide whether Auburn is racially imbalanced.”
Along with most of the council, Mayor Bill Ham disagrees with Dowdell.
“I don’t think there is any truth to what he’s saying,” Ham said. “Our council is separated into eight wards whose members are more than willing to help and be representatives of citizens and serve them.”
Ham said there will probably be no action taken by the council.
“He’s an individual,” Ham said. “I don’t think anybody can make him believe any different than he believes, but certainly any information that is available, he certainly has access to. I hope he is on a fact-finding mission, because I think he will find that the facts will bear there is no validity to what he is saying.”