The Athens City Council has now become a one-party government after Tuesday night’s elections, as Democrats were elected to every at-large seat.
A one party-government refers to a government in which a single party is in control. That sometimes happens in the U.S. when only Republicans or Democrats are elected into a government body.
In Athens, this is now the case as Beth Clodfelter was elected over Patrick McGee, Ellie Hamrick and Chris Monday to an At-Large seat. Clodfelter is a Democrat, McGee and Monday are independents and Hamrick is a socialist.
Having a one-party Democratic City Council could mean that groupthink could occur, DeLysa Burnier, an Ohio Univwrsity political science professor, said. Alternative ideas that Republicans or members of other political parties would have had may not be considered when councilmembers are having important discussions.
“One-party government is generally never a good thing,” Burnier said. “You lose out on diversity of values and ideas, and you also lose out on argument and debate. In general, I’m never crazy about one-party government.”
Although Burnier said a one-party government is usually not good, she thinks there is enough diversity throughout the democratic party in Athens to where it wouldn’t be as big of an issue as it would if the state government were one-party.
“There’s age diversity, work occupation diversity and experience diversity among the Democrats (in Athens),” Burnier said. “I just think that the party is diverse here at the local level, so it's less of a problem for sure.”
Clodfelter agrees that the possibility of a one-party City Council wouldn’t be an issue because she and other Democrats that are currently on City Council have differing opinions.
“We get into arguments about things,” Clodfelter said. “Some are much more conservative Democrats. Some are much more liberal. We are not just monochromatic, even though we’re in the same party.”
After making the decision to run for City Council, Clodfelter has been in regular attendance of the meetings. She said if she were to be elected, she thinks there would be many intense discussions among the Democratic City Council because there are a lot of things that she and other members don’t agree on.
Echo chamber, a term used to metaphorically describe a situation in which beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system, is a possible outcome of having a one-party Council, Burnier said. An echo chamber could occur if democratic ideas are continually reinforced instead of challenged during important conversations councilmembers have.
Burnier said she believes that the possibility of an echo chamber is less of an issue because of the wide diversity of the democratic candidates and current democratic members of City Council.
Groupthink, on the other hand, is something that Burnier thinks the new City Council body will need to be careful about.
“I think that perhaps it’s important for councilmembers to remind themselves that they don’t want to get into groupthink,” Burnier said. “I think someone needs to remind the group to consider the range of opinion in the community and ask themselves, ‘Have we consulted widely and to not just assume that we all know what the problem is?’ It needs to be actively guarded against, and City Council needs to be proactive about it.”
Burnier also said although it’s possible that groupthink could occur in a group setting without being aware of it, City Council can at least be conscious of it and actively try to prevent it from happening.
Patrick McGee, an independent who ran for reelection, said in an email that it is unfortunate that Democrats have retaken total control of City Council.
Now that it has happened, Burnier thinks that a member of City Council should make a self-appointed role that will seek out a range of opinions and make sure groupthink does not occur.