COLUMBIA — The effort to redraw the city's ward boundaries has come down to a thin blue line placing the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail in the Fifth Ward.
Of the five boundary maps recommended by the Ward Reapportionment Committee, only Trial E fits the city charter requirement that wards be contiguous. Even that's a close call. At first glance, it appears that a western section of the Fifth Ward is floating like an island detached from the ward. On close inspection of Trial E, however, one can see the MKT connecting the bulk of the Fifth Ward with the area to the west.
The line marking the trail, however, doesn't appear on the smaller graphic presented to the council at Monday night's meeting, which suggested that Trial E failed the contiguity test.
It wasn't a close call on Trial D, which clearly showed a lack of contiguity. Trial D would place the Thornbrook subdivision in the Fourth Ward, even though it's not connected to the rest of that ward. City Counselor Fred Boeckmann alerted the council to the problem Monday night as it was considering which of the trials to submit to the planning and legal departments for further review.
Trial D also was not well-received at public hearings. Committee Chairman Bob Pugh told the council earlier in the evening that he was submitting it anyway because it met all the group's criteria.
On Tuesday, Pugh denied that the maps had any issues with contiguity. He said he had advised the council that Trial F — which is no longer being considered — was unviable because it was not compact.
In regards to the other maps, Pugh said there were "no contiguous issues. Period."
Boeckmann and the council differed Monday night.
“We’ll have to start over, or we’ll have to come up with some other solution,” Mayor Bob McDavid said, adding Tuesday that he was "disappointed" that the problem had not been identified earlier in the process.
The Ward Reapportionment Committee has been working alongside the city staff since May to create maps they can present to the council as possible redistricting solutions.
On Monday night, the council was left with the impression that none of the five trials discussed was acceptable. Schmidt did leave open the possibility that the trail connection might be "the way out" of the problem for Trial E. Schmidt said one explanation for the committee's oversight is that it was too focused on the First Ward during the process.
It now appears that Trial E has the inside track. Boeckmann said Tuesday that the inclusion of the trail in the Fifth Ward would be an acceptable contiguous boundary.
The city's erratic borders make redrawing boundaries problematic because they complicate the requirement that wards be compact and contiguous.
Currently, the Fifth Ward stretches north to Chapel Hill Road. In Trial E, this area would become part of the Fourth Ward, and the MKT would become the border between the Fourth and Fifth wards.
Before redistricting in 2001, the trail was the boundary separating the Fourth and Fifth wards.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said she supports Trial E because it "makes the most sense."
The resolution by McDavid that formed the committee outlined three criteria:
- Create wards that are close to equal population.
- Avoid the separation of existing neighborhoods, their associations, business districts and other demographic features.
- Ensure the wards are both compact and contiguous.
The city charter doesn't specify that reapportionment must be done every 10 years.
Instead, it says, "boundaries shall be reviewed and revised from time to time, as may be necessary" to maintain an equal population in the wards. Typically, reapportionment occurs following the census.
The resolution to appoint the committee was adopted May 2. Since then, the ward committee has held six meetings, two public hearings and drafted five trial maps with the help of city planners. With Pugh's submission of the committee's report to the council Monday night, the committee's duties were complete.
A decision on ward boundaries is needed quickly because the opening date to file for City Council elections is approaching. The seats held by Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe will be up for election in the spring.