Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Committee recommends redistricting map to Council

Council could vote as soon as Dec. 8
By Seann McAnally
A special committee of the City Council today recommended that the full council approve a redistricting map that makes significant changes to city council districts, particularly in the 4th and 6th districts.  
At a 1 pm. joint meeting of the Planning & Zoning and Neighborhoods & Healthy Communities committees, members voted unanimously to recommend the council approve Redistricting Map 1, which was the choice of a citizen-led advisory committee. Essentially, the map brings districts 1 and 2 entirely north of the river and makes sweeping changes to the current boundaries of districts 4 and 6 - changes that residents of those districts say will do harm to their communities by moving key institutions into the 5th District and adding traditionally affluent Brookside neighborhoods to the 6th, changing its economic status and making it more difficult for candidates to be elected from the more working-class neighborhoods in the southeast part of the 6th District. 
The full council could vote to approve the map as soon as tomorrow (Dec. 8) at its regular session. 
Councilman Scott Wagner, who represents the 1st District, offered a last-minute compromise that would keep the Bannister Mall redevelopment area and the new KCPD South Patrol headquarters in the 6th District while making only negligible population changes to Map 1. 
City staff said it would take about 24 hours to verify those numbers. 
Committee co-chair Ed Ford suggested the joint committee vote to recommend approval of Map 1, but that Wagner or any other council member could suggest changes prior to the council vote. 
A revised Community Map drawn up by residents of the 6th District was not passed on for recommendation. 
Mayor Sly James said the Community Map created a "whack-a-mole" situation, solving perceived problems in one area but creating them in others. James also called for civility during the discussions, hoping to avoid the rancor and out-of-turn yelling that marred a previous joint committee meeting on Nov. 30. At that meeting attorney Clinton Adams charged opponents of Map 1 with racism, while several opponents of Map 1 yelled and interrupted during his comments. 
"The discourse in this room will always be civil," James said. "There will be no outbursts. We're not going to squelch free speech...but we can disagree without being disagreeable. Please respect each other, respect our city, and respect our process." 
James, who formally endorsed Map 1 in a Dec. 6 press release, attempted to forestall further discussion of the matter. He said no matter what the result, someone would be upset by it. 
"The concerns people have raised are legitimate, but this city has redistricted a number of times and everyone has managed to survive," James said. "No matter what happens, the redistricting process will upset someone for some reason...we could talk about this for another year, and someone will still be upset by it. What we cannot do is create a map to create a whack-a-mole type of situation where you whack down one problem and it creates another problem somewhere else. Be interested in the whole city, as opposed to your block."
Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver sent a letter that was read by one of his staffers. In it, he attempted to distance himself from his protege, Clinton Adams, who accused residents of the 4th and 6th district of racism during the Nov. 30 meeting, saying "Councilman John Sharp is the last person who would attempt to deny the voting rights of minorities." Sharp has been a vehement opponent of Map 1, saying it would "fracture and destroy the 6th District."
Cleaver said he had "no political investment" in any map, but said Map 1 helps heal the traditional rift between the city's African-American and Latino populations. He called Map 1 "fair and politically workable." 
Councilman Scott Taylor, 6th District At-Large, said he supported Map 1 even though he "wasn't crazy about" it.  
"We've heard from all parts of the city, and many people like Map 1. I don't like the total outcome here, but I see no other option at this point," Taylor said. 
Councilman John Sharp, of the 6th District, suggested some last-minute "tweaks" to the map, offering two new versions that would keep the Bannister Mall area, the Cerner office complex, and the KCPD South Patrol headquarters in the 6th District, while maintaining a super-majority (more than 60 percent) of ethnic minority votes in the 3rd and 5th districts, but the consensus of the committee was that Wagner's compromise motion was more workable. 
Sharp expressed concern that the Hickman Mills School District would be split by Map 1, but Taylor dismissed those concerns. 
"I just want to say, there are over a dozen school districts in this city, and many are split by council districts," Taylor said. He even suggested it would strengthen the Hickman Mills district's representation on the council, saying he is a former member of the Center School District board. That district is split between two council districts, he said, and recalled that as being a strength, not a weakness. 
Councilwoman Cindy Circo, of the 5th District, said she was "insulted" that some residents of the 6th District have stated they felt they would not be well-represented if they were in the 5th, calling such comments "scare tactics." 
"I'm excited for a new challenge and I'm ready to serve whoever it is (in her district)," she said. "I was open to tweaks but I'm just not finding the answer, so I don't know what else there is to talk about." 
James again called for an end to the discussions. 
"We can talk about this from now until the cows come home," he said. "The bottom line is, a decision has to be made. It has been talked to death. We have all the information we need. We know where everybody stands. It's not going to get any better." 
Wagner rejected that argument. 
"I don't believe there are no tweaks out there," he said. "To say there's nothing more to discuss because a committee has already discussed it is wrong." 
Councilman Michael Brooks, of the 5th District, said the arguments of 6th District residents who say they won't be fairly represented in the 5th are "foolish." 
"There's no such thing as a win-win solution here," Brooks said. "Is it perfect? No. It is going to make everyone happy? No. But it would be an insult to throw away the work the committee did just to keep some people happy. It's one city, ya'll. It's not about any one neighborhood or association being happy." 

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