COLUMBIA — Increasing the number of wards from the current six in Columbia would be a good way to help the City Council better represent constituents, the three people challenging incumbent First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton say. Crayton, however, said she thinks the move could be problematic.
If there’s a time to talk about adding more wards, and hence more council members, it’s now. Columbia’s ward boundaries are redrawn every 10 years after the U.S. census, and any accompanying change in the number of wards would first require voters’ approval of an amendment to the city charter.
According to the city Web site, gocolumbiamo.com, Columbia’s population has grown by more than 10,000 permanent residents since the census in 2000.
Columbia City Counselor Fred Boeckmann said that if a public were to approve a ballot issue calling for more wards, the next step would be for the council to pass an ordinance establishing the new ward boundaries.
The city charter mandates that wards be contiguous and compact and should have approximately equal populations. While the council can appoint a “ward reapportionment” committee, it is not required to do so.
“If you’re going to add members, it would take a while,” Boeckmann said. “This is nothing you’re going to do over a weekend. There are other considerations, too, because, for example, we don’t want to split up neighborhoods.”
Here’s where each of the candidates stands on the issue:
Crayton said adding more wards could cause more problems for the council than it would solve.
“I don’t know if you add a whole bunch (of wards), if you’d be able to work together,” Crayton said.
She also cited Columbia’s sprawling growth as an obstacle. She added that adding new communities to Columbia’s jurisdiction makes it difficult to divide up the wards proportionately.
“I don’t know how you could divide it up equally, especially since you’re annexing places on the fringe of Columbia,” she said.
Clark, a 15-year neighborhood and community activist, said he has supported the creation of more wards for years. Current wards, he said, are too large for council people to be able to effectively represent all residents.
“There’s a lack of homogeneity in the current wards,” Clark said. “The First Ward has four really distinct areas, and all the wards have wedges right in the center of the city, and all those areas are so vastly different.”
In 2002, during the last ward reapportionment discussion, Clark said he wrote several editorials recommending the city move to 12 wards.
“If I’m elected, one of my first things is going to be to get a commission to study increasing the number of wards on the table and start that discussion,” Clark said. “It is so apparent that we need more wards. If you have more people thinking together you get more really good ideas.”
Sturtz, co-founder of Ragtag and the True/False Film Festival, said two more wards should be added to Columbia when it comes time. He said the roughly 14,000 people who live in each ward now is too many for one council person to represent.
“If there were eight wards, each (council person would) be representing about 10,000 people. That would make it more responsive,” Sturtz said. “At the same time you’d have nine people on the council, so it wouldn’t be out of control. There’s a magic number. Once you get into 12, 13, 14 people it’s going to be very messy to run a meeting.”
Sturtz said he anticipates the discussion of where to redraw ward boundaries would be long and complicated, but he would like to ensure that new boundaries make sense and help council people represent citizens. He also favors keeping downtown, MU, Stephens and Columbia College in the First Ward.
“I really love the idea that the wealthy institutions, like the university and the colleges and downtown, are joined up with some of the poorest neighborhoods of Columbia,” Sturtz said. “The First Ward is a microcosm of the city; there’s an opportunity to utilize the cleverness of our institutions in working with the residents to address the central challenges in the neighborhoods.”
Baxter favors creating more wards, saying it would allow council members to focus attention on smaller areas. She said that as Columbia grows, the responsibilities of the council grow, too, and so should the number of wards.
“Columbia has grown a lot since the wards were established. Population, even the different housing, has grown,” Baxter said. “In the central city, as you fill certain areas with different types of housing, when you take down single-family housing and put in a duplex, you are increasing the population.”
Baxter said citizens would be better served by more representation.
— Anne Hauser, Rachel Heaton, Jenn Herseim, Sean Madden