Thursday, December 1, 2011

Debate Over KC Council Redistricting Continues

The battle over redrawing boundaries of Kansas City’s council districts continued last night at City Hall.
At a joint meeting of the Planning & Zoning and the Neighborhoods & Healthy Communities committees, residents argued the merits of two competing redistricting maps. More than 150 members of the public attended the meeting.  
The committee took no action but could make a recommendation to the City Council as soon as its Dec. 8 meeting. No public input is scheduled for that meeting.
The City Council will make a final decision as to new district boundaries before the end of the year.
The problem, essentially, is that the 2010 census shows population growing in the 1st, 2nd, and 6th Districts, while populations are shrinking elsewhere. To preserve a balance of roughly 76,000 residents per district, boundaries have to be redrawn so that districts that are growing have smaller boundaries, while districts that are shrinking have larger boundaries.
The KC Redistricting Advisory Committee held five public meetings in September and October. In the end, it recommended one of three maps that were proposed. The committee’s recommendation puts Districts 1 and 2 north of the Missouri River. Those districts are growing, proponents say, and moving them assures they have about 76,000 residents each. The advisory committee’s map moves District 4’s southern boundary to 59th St. from its current location at 79th St, and places much of District 6’s northern boundary – currently at roughly 87th St. – to I-435. That puts several key 6th District landmarks, including the Bannister Mall area, into the 5th District. It would also split the Hickman Mills School District between the 5th and 6th Districts. It is currently located entirely within the 6th District.
Before the public was allowed to speak, advisory committee members reiterated their methodology and defended their map selection.
Steve Glorioso, a political consultant who served on the advisory committee, has argued that the committee’s map was the only one that satisfied what he says are constitutional requirements that districts cannot be drawn in such a way as to remove an existing “supermajority” of ethnic minority votes in any district – specifically, in this case, the 3rd and 5th Districts. Those districts are traditionally made up of ethnic minorities but are dropping in population. 
Following Glorioso's presentation, Kansas City attorney Clinton Adams argued in favor of the advisory committee's map. Gunnar Hand, a resident of the 4th District, argued for the community map. Each man spoke and took questions for about 45 minutes. Then individual residents were allowed to speak, but some expressed frustration that they had to wait several hours to speak and were only given about 30 seconds to speak due to the large number of people attending.
Meanwhile, residents of the 4th and 6th Districts argued for a “community map” alternative, drawn up by a coalition of South Kansas City interests including Bonnaye Mims of the C-1 Hickman Mills School Board, Orrin Ellis of the KC Neighborhood Advisory Council, and others. This map was presented to the advisory committee in October, but no members of the committee would vote to forward it to the city council except for one – Eslun Tucker, who represented the 6th District.
Mims said the community map preserves a majority of ethnic votes in the inner city while not radically redrawing 6th District boundaries.
But opponents said the community map doesn’t preserve a “supermajority” – that is, two-thirds – of ethnic minority votes in the 3rd and 5th Districts, and makes no provision for tying together Hispanic communities in the west and northeast parts of the city, which the advisory committee believed was important.
Councilman John Sharp, who has argued against the map recommended by the advisory committee, said the City Council has the authority to draft a compromise map, and that he was hopeful the council would do just that.

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