Benton-Stephens residents search for alternative to recommended reapportionment plan

Thursday, July 7, 2011 | 11:11 p.m. CDT; updated 8:27 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 12, 2011

COLUMBIA — Attendees at Thursday night's Benton-Stephens Neighborhood Association meeting continued to voice their opposition to plans to move the neighborhood from the Third Ward to the First Ward but left still facing the challenge of providing an alternate solution.

The primary topic of discussion was representation for Columbia’s downtown district. With four votes required for the City Council to make a decision, shifting Benton-Stephens to the First Ward may mean one fewer vote for issues concerning the downtown area. 

“The ward has really become an island in the city,” Kip Kendrick, president of the Benton-Stephens Neighborhood Association, said. “Any time you take a portion of a ward that touches the downtown and shift it over into Ward One, you take away that downtown representation from the ward.”

The Columbia Ward Reapportionment Committee, appointed by the Columbia City Council, is responsible for redrawing ward lines to balance the population of the wards based on 2010 census results.

The committee’s current recommendation expands the First Ward east to include the Benton-Stephens neighborhood and west to include apartment complexes beyond Stadium Boulevard, increasing the population of the First Ward while decreasing that of the Second and Third wards. 

The primary goal is to reduce the population in the rapidly growing Second Ward while increasing the population of the First Ward without breaking up existing neighborhood organizations.

A second plan not recommended by the committee had garnered more support from Benton-Stephens residents. That proposal saw the First Ward expanding north along Oakland Gravel Road.

Opponents of the recommended plan argued that the solution is not to move Benton-Stephens into the First Ward, but to divide the downtown area between the wards.

“If the tendency is just to make the wards homogeneous in respect to any factor, that decreases the chance you’re going to get that kind of support. Particularly on urban issues, it’s going to be difficult,” former Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said.  “You want to make each ward as diverse as possible.”

Colleen Coble, the First Ward Reapportionment Committee representative, said she feels that consolidating Columbia’s urban areas will not decrease the downtown area's representation.  She said that the ownership residents have over the vibrance and vitality of the downtown district is key to understanding Columbia over the past 15 to 20 years.

“Downtown’s ours,” Coble said.

Third Ward Reapportionment Committee representative Eugene Gerke made clear that the public’s opinion matters.

“If you think that’s better, come to the public hearing and tell us why that’s better,” he said of possible alternatives the public might have.

The reapportionment public hearing is at 7 p.m. Thursday in the City Hall Council Chambers..

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Kip Kendrick July 8, 2011 | 8:13 a.m.

The 2001 Reapportionment Committee expanded the First Ward to its current boundaries. In the 2001 proposal to City Council, Clyde Wilson (chair) mentioned the importance of creating more representation for the downtown community. The report stated, "this goal may be achieved by an increase in the number of wards with lines drawn to focus two or more wards in or near the central city."

Enlarging Ward One to include another heavily populated portion of downtown (Benton-Stephens) does not achieve this goal. It works counter to the 2001 recommendations.

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