Public voices concern over diversity at ward reapportionment hearing

Thursday, July 14, 2011 | 11:04 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Clapping and yelling could be heard in favor of the proposed Trial B at the Columbia Ward Reapportionment Committee hearing on Thursday night.

The committee provided three maps, named trials A, B and D, as options for the reapportionment. Residents from multiple wards commented on the proposed trials, focusing largely on their potential effects on downtown and diversity of representation in the districts.

Those in favor of Trial B were the most well-represented group at the meeting, with applause breaking out after each speaker praised the proposed plan.

Trial B is a proposition that would expand the First Ward north along Range Line Street by adding a portion of the Second Ward to its territory. 

The purpose of the public hearing was to “get the feedback from the public to get their opinions about the proposals we have up,” said committee member Eugene Gerke.

Members of the Third Ward were the most vocal in their collective disapproval of trials A and D, which would move the Benton-Stephens neighborhood from the Third Ward to the First Ward.

Kip Kendrick, president of the Benton-Stephens Neighborhood Association, summarized the issues at hand.

“One of our concerns would be having a larger central city ward that now encompasses another part of downtown will decrease the downtown representation," he said. "Ward Three would no longer touch downtown and who’s to say that the Ward Three representative would vote in the downtown interest?”

Kendrick was not the only one to voice concerns with future representation. More than 20 people spoke in regard to the projected ward changes.

Potential voter turnout was also a debated issue.

“I think voter registration and voter turnout data is an important factor to consider,” Fourth Ward resident Jeremy Root said. “It’s important because the way that people participate in elections matters in how communities function. If people that vote similarly are condensed into the same wards, the result will be less political diversity on City Council.”

Former Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala was present at the hearing. In a letter presented to the council, he wrote, “Aside from the primary goal of reapportionment to balance population changes, representational aspects may be considered.”

Speakers voiced concern with diversity of race as well as diversity of density, land use and infrastructure.

“The healthiest thing for us as a community is to encourage diversity within each ward, rather than homogeneity,” Skala said.

The next step for the committee is unknown, but they will meet soon to discuss the public’s input from the hearing, Gerke said.

The committee has until Sept. 15 to make a decision regarding the reapportionment, the likely outcome of which is still unclear.

Although the committee initially favored Trial A, which proposes expanding the First Ward east to include the Benton-Stephens neighborhood and west to include apartment complexes beyond Stadium Boulevard, the committee decided Tuesday to bring all three trials to the hearing.

Committee Chairman Bob Pugh said there is no second public meeting scheduled at this time.

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Jason Entermyer July 29, 2011 | 10:12 a.m.

I would like to encourage all commission or committee chairs to prohibit audience members from clapping or yelling in either support or disapproval after each speaker. It is intimidating if you were wanting to speak in opposition of what the majority (or loudest portion) of the crowd in attendance is supporting. It is hard enough to get people to come to these meetings and we don't want to further discourage public involvement. It is a rule at the City Council meetings and should be followed at all related city commissions or committees.

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