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Ward committee chairman presents reapportionment process report to City Council

Monday, September 19, 2011 | 8:49 p.m. CDT; updated 12:17 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 21, 2011

COLUMBIA — A report on the effort to redraw Columbia's wards was presented to the City Council before Monday night's council meeting.

The report, submitted by Ward Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bob Pugh, included public hearing transcripts, meeting minutes, how the committee members voted on each trial, maps and census data. The committee has completed its duties, and the decision on how to redistrict the wards now lies to the council.

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Every 10 years, Columbia redraws its wards based on census data. The committee was formed in May and was charged with the task of creating wards with roughly equal populations – about 18,063 people. Much of the debate has focused on the central First Ward, which has the lowest population. To be equal to the city's other five wards, it will have to encompass a larger part of the city than it does now.

The process began with two maps, A and B, which were drawn by the city staff. It expanded to include three more maps, D, E and F, which were proposed by members of the committee.

Although the committee sent all five trials to the council, Pugh said both E and D had the most favorable votes. Trial E had a 5-3 vote from the committee, and Trial D split the votes 4-4.

Trial D was not popular at the public hearings, but Pugh told the council to "weigh (the public's comments) for what they are."

Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill asked Pugh about the public's response to Trial D.

Pugh said several neighborhood associations, including Benton-Stephens, didn't respond well to the trial. Pugh said "public opinion is public opinion" and although they considered the comments, it was the committee's job to recommend options that fit the criteria they adopted early on in the process. Trial D, according to Pugh, fits those criteria.

He advised the council to "throw away" Trail F because no one voted for it and it didn't fit the committee's guidelines.

Pugh also told the council about a citizen-initiated map known as Trial J, but said that it was not officially considered by the committee. Trial J, like Trial E, would expand the First Ward west, but it would go a step further and take that boundary to the city limit. Pugh said although the First Ward would no longer be landlocked by other wards with the option, growth on that edge of town isn't likely anyway.

Referring to the current boundaries of the city, Pugh said "it looks like somebody started to put together a jigsaw puzzle and got drunk and lost all the pieces."

Mayor Bob McDavid thanked Pugh and the committee for their work.

First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said the city will draft an ordinance that may cut the trial options down to two. The ordinance will have its first reading at the Oct. 3 council meeting.


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Comments

Mike Martin September 20, 2011 | 9:47 a.m.

I haven't watched Mr. Pugh's testimony, but objections to Trial D came from many quarters, not just public commentary.

Trial D had trouble inside the Ward Reapportionment Committee, when member Michelle Gadbois spoke against it, with concerns about the Voting Rights Act and possible gerrymandering:

http://www.columbiaheartbeat.com/2011/07...

http://www.columbiaheartbeat.com/2011/08...

Trial D was crafted by former Republican Governor Matt Blunt's chief aide, Rob Monsees.

I and others realize the committee wanted to avoid concerns about possible political maneuvering, but having such a high-profile partisan individual as Mr. Monsees draft a plan is inviting those concerns.

Finally, several neighborhood groups -- not just Benton-Stephens -- also opposed the plan, in letters to the Committee:

http://www.columbiaheartbeat.com/2011/07...

It's also interesting to note that committee votes for various plans were almost evenly split along conservative/liberal lines.

That fact alone suggests Ward Reapportionment had political overtones. It's bound to, which is how and why the concept of "gerrymandering"
has long been a part of the national discourse.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 20, 2011 | 11:54 a.m.

("Trial J, like Trial E, would expand the First Ward west, but it would go a step further and take that boundary to the city limit. Pugh said although the First Ward would no longer be landlocked by other wards with the option, growth on that edge of town isn't likely anyway.")
Throw the citizens' plan away because it's declared worthless due to an assumption which has little to do with being fair, nonpolitical and free of racial overtones.
Personally, I liked Plan J, although with all the hoopla over the first ward "not growing" I'd rather see this historical ward disband and get absorbed into the other wards. Then "the District" could use the mayor as its liaison to city hall instead of getting so much attention from other ward representatives. We could then phase out one council seat, streamline council meetings and concentrate on building voter/citizen participation in the other wards. Another approach would have been to divide the city along an agreed upon axis and have a SW, SE, NE and NW ward, thus reducing the council to four ward reps and the mayor. Then each ward could vote in 2 deputy council reps to help build voter/citizen involvement.
(Currently, city council representative races bring out very few voters and most residents probably don't even know what ward they live in. Do we even teach civics and city government politics in CPS?)
Heck, with all the special interest and political control variables in this committee, perhaps it would have been better to have had an unbiased consultant from outside this city to propose some even better ideas.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger September 20, 2011 | 12:59 p.m.

According to this article, Mr. Pugh "told the council to "weigh (the public's comments) for what they are," adding "public opinion is public opinion."

Assuming he's being quoted accurately, these comments strike me as arrogant and dismissive. Why solicit public input--in this case virtually unanimous in its support of Plan E? No one, as I recollect from the hearing, stood up for Plan D, a plan which, contrary to Mr. Pugh's assertion, in no way fits the criteria established by the council.

To key on one of Mr. Pugh's witticisms, perhaps he is the one who has "lost all the pieces" in his remarks to the council.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 20, 2011 | 1:39 p.m.

While I know that each ward council rep selected a member from their ward to serve on the committee, how did Bob Pugh become chairman and ultimate spokesperson for this group?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro October 14, 2011 | 2:34 p.m.

("Pugh also told the council about a citizen-initiated map known as Trial J, but said that it was not officially considered by the committee. Trial J, like Trial E, would expand the First Ward west, but it would go a step further and take that boundary to the city limit. Pugh said although the First Ward would no longer be landlocked by other wards with the option, growth on that edge of town isn't likely anyway.")
With a little alteration just skirting around Jason Thornhill's home, Plan J would have been an improvement over Plan E as it would have allowed the first ward not to be landlocked, which apparently was a concern of many.
Bring on the skyscrapers, high rises and giant parking garages!

(Report Comment)

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