Wednesday, October 12, 2011

KC Residents Oppose Redistricting Proposals

More than 100 South Kansas City residents of all ages, races, and walks of life crowded the Baptiste Educational Center Oct. 10. They were there to fight to keep the 6th District from being split up as part of a plan to redraw the boundaries of the city’s council districts.
It was the fourth of five public hearings held by the KC Redistricting Advisory Committee, which will present no more than three options for redrawing district lines to the City Council on Oct. 20. Redistricting is necessary to balance populations in the four districts in light of the 2010 census, which shows populations growing north of the Missouri River and in South Kansas City, but declining in the central city.
The committee has considered two maps so far. The first, drawn up by committee members Keith Nelson and John Fairfield, who represent communities north of the river, splits the Hickman Mills School District in half and removes such 6th District landmarks as the Trailside Center and Bannister Mall, placing them in the 5th District. A second map, drawn up by committee member Eslon Tucker, who represents the 6th District, kept more of the 6th District intact but didn’t go far enough to satisfy many South Kansas City residents who don’t want to see their communities fractured.
A third map, drawn up by a committee of local volunteers led by Hickman Mills School Board President Bonnaye Mims, was introduced at the meeting, and it was this map that some 65 people spoke in support of, urging the redistricting committee to present it to the City Council for consideration.
The KC Neighborhood Advisory Council, the Southern Communities Coalition, the Center Planning Council, two community improvement districts, the Community Assistance Council, and virtually every homeowners association in South Kansas City have passed resolutions in favor of the new map and against the first map. The second map was essentially ignored.
The new “Community Map,” as residents called it, puts the northern boundary of the 6th District at Gregory Blvd. on the northwest, then south on Holmes roughly to Bannister Rd., then north on 71 Highway to 87th Street, east to James A. Reed Rd., then south to I-470, which is the proposed northeastern boundary. Both other maps placed much larger chunks of the 6th District into the 5th or 4th council districts.
“The first map is offensive,” said Ron Yaffe, who extolled the community spirit of the 6th District. “Our successes are hard fought. They are personal. Tell me we’re not a diverse community. We’ve come a long way together. Let us go together the rest of the way…please.”
Dennis O’Neil said the 6th District was the perfect example of a racially diverse district that has come together.
“We have to maintain the integrity of functioning neighborhoods,” he said. “If you look at this crowd, it’s a poster child for how a multi-racial society ought to function.”
Dan Osman, who serves on the Hickman Mills School Board, urged the committee not to consider maps that place affluent parts of Waldo and neighborhoods off Ward Parkway – currently in the 4th District – into the 6th.
“Do you think the needs of South Kansas City will be addressed by someone who lives in Waldo or Brookside? Look at the audience tonight. This is South Kansas City. We will not sit by while you sit there and say this is not your problem.”
Doug Smith, president of the Community Assistance Council, said he was worried that the first proposed map would take the CAC out of the 6th District. He said his daughter and son-in-law live in the affluent part of the 4th District that the first map would bring into the 6th, and that they don’t care what happens in South Kansas City.
“It’s not a priority for them. They’re not interested. It’s not their focus,” he said. “You’re going to divorce CAC from the community it serves.”
Tim Henry, president of the Birchwood Hills homeowners association, said he was worried that the first map would give too much influence to affluent communities in the western part of the district.
“The socio-economic variance would be tremendous,” he said. “The people in the area of 55th and Ward Parkway don’t even know South Kansas City exists. The change you’re making would basically strip the 6th District’s representation on the City Council.”
State Representative Jason Holsman, who represents a portion of the 6th District, personally endorsed the Community Map, and warned the committee that other scenarios would drive a wedge between east and west in South Kansas City.
“There are vastly different resource needs between east and west,” he said. “My constituents have asked for my help in this, and I’d like to add my voice in support of the Community Map.”
Tim Cushing, president of the Ruskin Heights homeowners association, said he thought the first map could be the straw that breaks South Kansas City’s back.
“The negative impact would be great,” he said. “We can beat a tornado, we can beat a lot of things, but I don’t think we can beat this.”
Steve Rinne, of the Kansas City Port Authority, said he believed the Community Map would ensure that money from the Public Improvements Advisory Committee and other funding would not be diminished.
“I’m opposed to the first map because of the harm it would do to the entire city’s economic well-being,” he said.
Lou Austin, chairman of the 3-Trails Community Improvement District – which aims to promote and revitalize the Bannister Mall area – said he understood that the committee had to balance keeping minority voting blocks intact, making “political deals,” and requirements for population balance. But it also has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that South Kansas City isn’t hurt economically.
“What good is a political victory if the result is an economic wasteland and fracturing of good communities?” Austin asked.
Barb Engel, president of the Martin City Community Improvement District, said her part of town wouldn’t be affected geographically by any of the maps. But she was concerned that capital improvements projects vital to Martin City – including the renovation of 135th Street – might not get funding if the district is split up.
“We are the economic powerhouse of this district,” she said. “We generate $50 million in sales tax annually. We need to have 135th Street upgraded if we’re going to compete with Leawood and Lee’s Summit.”
Carol McClure, of the Southern Communities Coalition, urged the committee to consider the community map.
“The 6th District is the ideal district. It’s the most diversified in the city,” she said, adding that the Coalition formally endorses the Community Map.
“Map 1 takes the heart out of the 6th District,” said Carol Winterowd, president of Center Planning and Development.
Jane Brown, committee chair and local lawyer, said she was taken aback by the turnout.
“You’ve really touched me,” she said. “Your comments have been heartfelt and I can tell this is a strong community.”
Committee member Nelson, co-author of the first map that so many spoke against, said he was impressed by the community spirit of the 6th District.
“I am very impressed with the compassion you have shown for your district,” he said.
However, Nelson, Fairfield and committee member and political consultant Steve Glorioso voiced skepticism that the population numbers on the Community Map were accurate. Glorioso said that the map was coming to the committee late in the game.
“We’ve been at this for months, and we haven’t come up with a map that anyone here liked,” he said. “Now we get one a week before we’re supposed to make a decision? We can’t deal with this map the way it is.”
Brown reminded the audience there is one more public hearing at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Mohart Center. The committee will make its final decision about which maps to forward to the City Council at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall.

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