COLUMBIA — On April 7, Columbians will vote to fill two contested City Council seats. The following year, census mailings and workers will count Columbia residents. A year later – in 2011 – the two events will cross paths when the City Council uses those numbers to make decisions about ward redistricting and council size.
After each census, the council helps redraw ward boundaries to reflect the changing makeup of the city. Mayor Darwin Hindman said he would be open to talking about expanding the City Council from seven to nine members at that time.
"I have said all along that I would be opposed to adding new council members at least until after the next census when we do our redistricting, and then it's fair debate," Hindman said.
Hindman said that while the city shouldn't be expanding the council with every jump in population, he believes there is an optimum number of council members. The mayor said that number is likely seven or nine, which would mean six or eight wards and a mayor.
"It's not a major change if we go from seven to nine, but I think we want to be a little careful about steadily increasing the size of the council," Hindman said.
Second Ward candidate Allan Sharrock laid out the steps of the redistricting process and said he thinks the city will need to add two wards.
His opponent for the seat to be vacated by incumbent Chris Janku, Jason Thornhill, said he is not opposed to adding more wards. On the other hand, Thornhill said, he hasn't heard anyone say they've had trouble accessing their council representatives, and he knows of cities larger than Columbia that function well with similarly sized councils.
"I don't think we are under-serving people by having six council members" and a mayor, Thornhill said.
Rod Robison, who running against incumbent Barbara Hoppe for the Sixth Ward council slot, said he is against expanding the council.
"I'd think I'd move very slowly in adding more wards," Robison said. "I think that with adding more people, you add more to the bureaucracy."
While she could not be reached for immediate comment, Hoppe said at a candidate forum hosted by the Columbia Muleskinners on Feb. 27 that she believes adding more members would lengthen City Council meetings and dilute the voting power of the group.
"In terms of six wards, I think we function well. I think the council has made an effort to be more accessible to the community," Hoppe said.
The U.S. Constitution requires a census every decade. The next will officially begin on April 1, 2010, and run through the end of the year. Preliminary efforts will be underway soon, with employees going door-to-door to verify addresses in preparation for mass mailings early next year.
Those who don't respond to mailed questionnaires will be counted in the latter half of 2010. According to the U.S. Census Department's Web site, state redistricting data will be available in March 2011.
Hindman urged Columbia residents to be sure they are counted in the census, as the federal government will allocate significant amounts of money based on census results.
"It's very, very important that we have a full count in Columbia," Hindman said. "There are literally billions of federal dollars that are distributed according to population."
– Missourian reporter Patrick Sweet contributed to this report