By Seann McAnally
Kansas City is redrawing its council districts to reflect shifts in population over the last decade. But some residents in South Kansas City worry that the proposed changes will hurt the 6th District by diluting its voice in city government, and they’re calling for more public meetings on the issue.
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The districts, which were redrawn last year to satisfy a requirement in the city charter, must now be redrawn again after 2010 census data has come in.
To ensure equal representation, each district should have about 76,600 citizens. But the 1st and 2nd districts, which primarily include Platte County communities north of the Missouri River, have swollen to more than 80,000 residents each over the last ten years, while the 3rd District and 5th District – traditionally strong African-American voting blocks – have dropped to 70,000 or less.
The committee must submit three alternative redistricting scenarios to the City Council by October 15. So far, the committee has looked at several scenarios, which can be accessed on the city’s web site. The committee met three times in August, and is scheduled to meet again following three public meetings in September where citizens can give their input. Those meetings are currently scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 20, from 5-7 p.m. at the Park Hill School District Office at 7703 NW Barry Rd.; Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011, 10 a.m. to noon at the Tony Aguirre Community Center at 2050 W. Pennway; and Monday, Sept. 26, 2011, 5-7 p.m. at the Southeast Community Center in Swope Park at 4201 E 63rd St.
“In both maps the 6th District and Hickman Mills Community come out as the big losers in all of this,” said Neighborhood Advisory Committee member Karry Palmer. “We need to make our voices heard at the public hearings.”
None of those meetings were in the 6th District, which has some residents crying foul. Councilman John Sharp introduced a measure that was approved at the Sept. 8 City Council session that added two meetings and extended the committee’s deadline to the middle of October. At press time, the times and places of those meetings had not yet been set (see www.jcadvocate.com for updates on those meeting times).
The latest alternatives under discussion show the 5th District’s boundaries extending farther south to take a chunk out of the east side of the 6th District near the former Bannister Mall, with the west side of the 6th District extending north into what is currently the 3rd District, to encompass Ward Parkway and the surrounding areas.
Sharp said that could be a bad thing.
“We certainly won’t have a united voice anymore,” he said of the potential new boundaries. “I think it will have a detrimental effect on the district,” Sharp said. “It would potentially split the Hickman Mills School District and put the Bannister Mall area in the 5th District.”
Sharp said residents of South Kansas City – particularly in the 6th District and specifically in the Hickman Mills School District – often feel left out of city politics.
“South Kansas City often gets ignored, and this isn’t going to help,” he said, saying that it’s important the region have a united voice.
“Splitting us up into the 5th District will weaken our voice on the council, there’s no doubt about it,” Sharp said.
“We want the north border to stay where it is,” said April Cushing, of the Ruskin Heights Homeowners Association. She also serves on the Hickman Mills School Board. “If you have to shift us, shift us to the east, not the west.”
Cushing said she feared the changes would put too much power in the western part of the 6th District by pushing the boundary north to include Ward Parkway – a region she feels is dissimilar to the eastern part of the district in both race and income.
“Whoever runs for council from the east side of the district will have to run a harder campaign,” Cushing said. She said she did not believe representatives from the west side of the district would be concerned about the needs of lower-income residents on the east side.
“They’re not going to care what happens to us over here,” she said.
At the Sept. 9 “Second Fridays” meeting, a monthly get-together with 6th District council members and the public, Councilman Scott Taylor reminded residents the City Council is not involved in designing the redistricting maps.
“The council isn’t involved in that process yet and it’s really not appropriate that we would be,” he said, referring to the fact that redistricting could have an effect on future elections, as some council members see their traditional voting blocks fragmented.
Cushing opined that “special interest groups” in the 3rd and 5th Districts who want a stronger African-American voting block are exerting too much influence in the process.
“Three and Five are the only winners on those maps,” she said of the current alternatives.
Sharp said it was important for citizens to become engaged in the process, and pointed out that the meetings are open to residents from all districts, regardless of where the meeting is being held.
“These boundaries will affect us for the next 10 years until the next census,” Sharp said. He said “nothing is final” yet, and that strong citizen reactions could shape the way the boundaries are ultimately drawn.
The council is not expected to vote on the proposals until late October or early November.