When I wrote a few weeks ago about the work of Columbia’s Ward Reapportionment Committee, I expressed the hope that the outcome will reflect both population balance and political fairness.
Tuesday’s meeting of the committee left me with the strong feeling that there is now a map under consideration that would do both those things.
Actually, from my perspective there are two, but the earlier version called Trial B has generated enough opposition from affected neighborhoods that it seems unlikely of approval.
The meeting itself was quick and quiet. Its outcome, as the Missourian reported Tuesday, was a decision to hold another public hearing on all five trial maps at 7 p.m. Sept. 7, followed by a decision-making session of the committee the following Monday.
That schedule would permit the committee to meet the Sept. 15 deadline for a recommendation to theColumbia City Council, which can then accept, reject or modify.
(Maybe I should have put “deadline” in quotation marks because committee Chairman Bob Pugh– following what one member called “Bob’s Rules of Order” – grumbled that he doesn’t intend “to take that date literally.”)
Another thing he said may have been more indicative of where the committee is likely to come out. After members had examined the two latest versions of ward lines, labeled Trials E and F, Bob commented, “I personally think E is a pretty good map.”
That’s the version the city staff created at the suggestion of Colleen Coble, who represents the First Ward on the committee. It brings the population of her ward, now the city’s smallest in both area and residents, near the goal of 18,083 by expanding its boundary west to Silvey Street to take in the Columbia Mall and nearby apartments and condominiums between Broadway on the south and I-70 on the north.
The First Ward would then contain the city’s two biggest commercial centers, many of its poorest residents and the university’s dormitory complex at Providence and Stadium.
In addition to meeting the population target almost exactly, Trial E avoids the controversial shifting of the Old Southwest and Benton-Stephens neighborhoods away from the Fourth and Third wards, respectively. So it seems unlikely to upset the conservative-progressive balance on the Council, as Trial D would do.
Trial F, which would create two central city wards and leave the Fifth Ward sprawling along the southern edge of town, drew no support, even from the committee member who proposed it, Terry Smith. It turns out that not every new idea is a good one.
The committee also had no time for a plan suggested by a citizen group in the First Ward. Its fatal flaw seemed to be that it put Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill’s residence in the expanded First Ward. That violated one of the committee’s criteria.
Committee members spent nearly as much time Tuesday discussing how to vote as they did on substance. It seemed to me that an obvious, and better, process was being overlooked, so after the meeting, I cornered member Michelle Gadbois and made my contribution.
Instead of voting up or down on each plan individually, I suggested, have each member rank all five plans in order of preference. Then eliminate the least favored and repeat. That way, the votes would reveal second and third choices as well as favorites. The plan that was everybody’s second choice might be a compromise winner.
She said she’d pass that on.
Public hearings occasionally produce surprises, but I’d say that the recently created Trial E looks like a winner. Or maybe not.
As Chairman Pugh put it Tuesday, there’ll be two hours of public comment Sept. 7, followed the next week by “two hours of arguing.”
He concluded, “This is not as simple as I thought it would be.” Of course not. The politics of demography is seldom simple.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.