Diversity of committee to redraw Columbia city wards questioned

NAACP president decries lack of minority members
Friday, May 20, 2011 | 5:41 p.m. CDT; updated 6:58 p.m. CDT, Friday, May 20, 2011
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Columbia’s wards are being redrawn to equalize the population sizes within their boundaries.

COLUMBIA — Not everyone is pleased with the makeup of the committee that will propose new boundaries for Columbia's wards.

Mary Ratliff, president of the local and state chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is angry about a lack of black representation on the group.

“The majority have representation; we have not.”

Seven people sit on the Ward Reapportionment Committee. Mayor Bob McDavid appointed former mayor Bob Pugh to lead the committee, and each of the six councilpersons appointed an individual from within his or her ward, McDavid said. There was no collaboration in making the appointments. Council members used their personal discretion, he said.

McDavid said he wanted the person chairing the committee to have a citywide view and past leadership experience, and he thought a former mayor would have the stature to carry off the job.

The other appointees:

  • Colleen Coble, First Ward
  • Scott Atkins, Second Ward
  • Eugene Gerke, Third Ward
  • Rob Monsees, Fourth Ward
  • Michelle Gadbois,  Fifth Ward
  • Terry Smith, Sixth Ward.

The first priority of the committee is to rearrange ward lines to balance the number of residents among the six wards according to 2010 census data, Pugh said. The Second and Fifth wards have more than one-sixth of the population, and the First and Fourth have less.

About 14,700 residents live in the First Ward, for example, and 21,341 in the Second. To be equal, all wards would need to contain about 18,000 residents.

The committee’s primary concern in determining new boundaries will be population, Pugh said, then it will consider other factors such as preserving neighborhood associations.

“I want to make this as objective as possible,” Pugh said.

McDavid said he expects the general shape of the existing ward boundaries to be maintained and that the First Ward, which has the highest percentage of black residents, will look slightly bigger.

McDavid said he's not worried about the lack of minorities on the board but more concerned that the members who have been appointed represent the diverse character of residents in their wards. He also wants to make sure residents have input and power in their election processes.

Ratliff, however, said all groups need to be included because of cultural differences. She said there are many highly educated black people in the community who are actively involved and would have been well-suited for the committee. She said the lack of a black appointee shows an insensitivity.

Ratliff said she will visit with the NAACP legal department on Monday to determine whether any action can be taken.

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