Redrawing Columbia's wards proves puzzling for representatives, residents

Beneath the boundaries of Columbia, a complex balance of power and influence is at stake
Saturday, September 24, 2011 | 4:13 p.m. CDT; updated 5:58 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 29, 2011
Dan Cullimore works in a community garden off Lyon Street in the First Ward. Cullimore said it's difficult to empower constituent groups in the city simply by redrawing ward boundaries.

COLUMBIA — Louis Wilson occupies a rare place in Columbia. What makes him — and his neighbors — unusual is location, location, location.

Anecdotally, many people in Columbia don’t know which of the city’s six wards they live in. As communications director of the Historic West Broadway Association, however, Wilson knows his neighborhood is one of few in the city that straddle two wards, in his case the First and the Fourth.


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Because each ward elects one representative to the Columbia City Council, Wilson and his neighbors have the benefit of being able to bend the ears of two council members.

“That may be a stupid type of political addition, but it seems to make sense,” Wilson said. He spoke as an individual citizen, not on behalf of his neighborhood association. “It’s nice to have access to two parties.”  

The issues of access and representation are central to the debate over how to redraw the city's ward boundaries. Equalizing ward populations was the primary goal of ward reapportionment, but the committee charged with the task was also directed by the council to avoid splitting neighborhoods. Aside from neighborhoods, any number of constituencies can be concentrated in one ward or spread among them.

Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley prefers to keep constituencies together as a matter of efficiency. Dudley is one of the two council members Historic West Broadway can tap, along with First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt.

Dudley said his first official meeting as a council member was with Wilson’s group. He doesn’t feel it's a problem to work across ward boundaries in that case, but he likes keeping neighborhoods together.

“I believe 50 percent of a ward wanting the same thing is better than 10 percent of five wards wanting the same thing," Dudley said.

If you concentrate an interest group in one place, Mayor Bob McDavid said, you increase the likelihood that those people can elect someone from their group to the council.

This is widely regarded as a reason the current First Ward, which comprises most of the central city, was created in 1991. Whether that was an effort to boost representation for black residents or for downtown businesses and residents depends on whom you ask.

“But if you carve the wards to try to meet the interests of constituency groups, are you diluting their influence paradoxically?” McDavid asked.

He offered the city’s college population as an example. Concentrating student populations in one ward might result in a student being elected to the council, but that person would have only one of seven votes. But would students be better served if more council members were obliged to respond to them?

“I’m asking because there are two answers,” McDavid said. “And I don’t know which one is right.”

Central city, central question

To ensure equal representation among citizens, the population of all wards must be roughly equal. That's why Columbia’s ward maps have been redrawn about every decade since 1971, following the U.S. census.

Wilson described it as “a numbers game. ... You need so many heads in this ward to make it equal with all the others. Well, what group of heads do you push into it?”

This time around, the ward at the center of that question is also at the center of the city: the First Ward. Its population increased the least of all six wards in the past 10 years.

Columbia has grown outward through annexation, but the First Ward is landlocked. Before the city created the central ward in 1991, wards were drawn more like a pie, with every slice including part of the central city.

But since the First Ward became landlocked, it has had no room to grow. That means either more people must move in, or it must absorb adjacent neighborhoods from other wards. Although there has been some debate about returning to the pie model this year, all the official trial maps leave the First Ward surrounded.

The tension in reapportionment debates illustrates the tug-of-war between central Columbia and the city's periphery.

The central city, being the older part of town, needs major infrastructure work. The outskirts of the city, on the other hand, are composed mostly of newer subdivisions where infrastructure is up to date.

“To completely refurbish (central city stormwater systems) is going to take a lot of money,” McDavid said. “The people who live in the new subdivisions don’t have that problem. What’s the extent to which they should be asked to fund what doesn’t affect them directly?"

Distribution of power

Racial and political sensitivities have made the decision of which neighborhoods to move into the First Ward sticky.

Census figures from 2010 show racial minorities are now more distributed  — especially in the First, Second and Third Wards — than ever before. The city was unable to provide statistics on income distribution among the wards.

Dan Cullimore, a member of the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association board and a resident of the First Ward, has attended every public hearing held by the Ward Reapportionment Committee. He called the minority representation issue "a specious argument.”

“It also assumes that they’re all going to vote the same,” he said.

Steve Calloway is president of the Minority Men's Network and a resident of the Fifth Ward. “It does not appear that any of the plans allows us to have concentrations of (minority) populations because the city of Columbia is diverse,” he said.

“The idea of reapportionment is it ought to be a reshuffling of things so that from a representative standpoint, the (City Council) should reflect what the people look like,” Calloway said. “That doesn’t mean that a minority population should have a minority representative, but if they feel that a person of color best represents their interest, they should have a better opportunity to make that happen.”

That said, he worries about possible “dilution” of First Ward interests. If the city moves neighborhoods with similar infrastructure needs into the First Ward, there may be one less council member advocating for infrastructure.

“It might be less likely to get done if only one ward needs it,” Calloway said.

That may or may not be true, depending on the issue, said Terry Smith, a member of the Ward Reapportionment Committee and executive vice-president and dean of academic affairs at Columbia College.

“You’ve got to count noses and get four votes to get anything passed,” Smith agreed. “In that regard, you’ve got to reach across ward boundaries.”

But whether it’s best to concentrate interest groups within one ward depends largely on the interest, he said.

“If it is an interest that has a good vibe citywide,” Smith said, it doesn’t matter so much whether the group advocating for it is concentrated in one ward.

“If it tends to be a localized issue or people tend to feel negative about it, then it’s better to be dispersed.”

When it comes to advocating for central city infrastructure, Smith believes spreading the interest is best.

Cullimore said wards create a system that represents a population geographically, even though people within that geography are diverse in terms of education, community involvement, personal interests and “the problems they face on a daily basis.”

“The perfect solution would be to randomize everyone’s assignment to a ward,” he suggested. He realizes that's neither practical nor probable, but his point is about equal representation.

Cullimore argued that “power has to cross those boundaries” if a group is going to be heard.

“If you want to address minority representation, you have to do it another way," Cullimore said. "It has to be done politically, not geographically.”

That's where the pie approach could help. "If you have the pie, then every council member has more of (any one interest group) to deal with," McDavid said. "So you have very close elections, and a constituency that is a minor player spread throughout the community could in fact have influence on more than one ward.”

When wards matter

“Truthfully, I don’t really care which ward I live in,” said the Rev. Jim Bryan who, incidentally, lives in the Fifth Ward. He retired in 2010 from his position as pastor of the Missouri United Methodist Church on Ninth Street. When Bryan was a boy, his father served as pastor at the same church he went on to serve for 10 years.

“My interest was the whole city, so I don’t really have a ward mentality,” Bryan said. “I think every area ought to be concerned about every other area, and we all ought to be concerned about each other as individuals.”

Bryan said he’ll learn which ward he lives in when the next election comes. For now, he is not even sure who his council representative is. (It's Helen Anthony, by the way.) He said he talks to any council member he sees.

He's probably not alone. Wilson appreciates the energy and untold hours Columbia residents contribute to the civic process, but he doesn't believe most people identify themselves strongly based on ward boundaries.

“I don’t think I’ve been in a conversation in this town 30-plus years where somebody said, ‘Hey, let’s go over to the Sixth Ward and drink all night’ or something like that,” Wilson said.

“The only time wards come up in conversation seems to be when you’re having local elections or,” he laughed, “at the time when wards are reapportioned, I guess.”

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Ray Shapiro September 24, 2011 | 4:45 p.m.

Good article.
Personally, I believe that the city should disband this old first ward and divide it up into the surrounding wards.
The mayor could then act as the liaison for the Special Business District downtown and we'd be able to streamline the city council by phasing out one of the seats.
Any problems related to the current first ward sections would then become the problem of the ward it becomes part of.
Just like every other problem wards might have.
And as for being "landlocked" one might consider high rises for growth projects.
Many "landlocked" or even islands such as Manhattan, grow up instead of out.

(Report Comment)
Holly Henry September 24, 2011 | 4:49 p.m.

“'To completely refurbish (central city stormwater systems) is going to take a lot of money,' McDavid said. 'The people who live in the new subdivisions don’t have that problem. What’s the extent to which they should be asked to fund what doesn’t affect them directly?'"

What a telling quote. The first ward, along with other older neighborhoods, had to "wait its turn" in order to free up resources for new development and its associated new infrastructure with the promise that the new tax base that would result from expanding the city would help pay for infrastructure improvements in the older parts of the city. Now the philosophy is that the newer residents to the city shouldn't have to pay for things that "don't affect them directly."

Given how pervasive this sentiment seems to be on both the current council and the outlying parts of the city where the population now outnumbers that of the central city, it seems to me that the central city is poised to lose no matter how the ward boundaries are redrawn. How shortsighted and sad!

(Report Comment)
Karl Skala September 24, 2011 | 8:58 p.m.

I hesitate to comment on what Mayor McDavid may have meant with his rhetorical question "What’s the extent to which they should be asked to fund what doesn’t affect them directly?" Perhaps he should be asked directly.

But I would suggest that all taxpayers have a vested interest in aging infrastructure maintenance no matter where they live in our community. And that includes new development, whose new infrastructure will also eventually age. Ironically, community wide shared costs is the prevailing view of the development community when they seek public/private partnerships to help provide infrastructure and access to their newly developed properties.

Further, I have said so publicly in my capacity as a member of the recently established Columbia Infrastructure Task Force, whose charge it was to determine the total costs of road, sewer, and storm water and to recommend how to pay for it, and just who should do so.

A majority on the Task Force chose to focus only on road infrastructure and made majority recommendations to the Council to increase funding for new road infrastructure by removing the bus and airport subsidies from the 1/2% permanent transportation sales tax and increases in capital improvement sales tax bonding, and to leave development fees unaltered.

I was not among that majority on the Task Force and did not vote to endorse the majority view. Rather, joined by one other member, we drafted a Minority Report which recommended increases in existing infrastructure maintenance paid for with the existing 1/2% permanent transportation sales tax and by instituting a different development fee system (recommended by the International Traffic Engineers) based on road use (i.e., trips generated) rather than development size (i.e., square footage).

Both the Majority Report (pp. 4-15) and our Minority Report (pp. 16-22) were accepted by the City Council and can be downloaded at:

Regards, Karl

(Report Comment)
Karl Skala September 24, 2011 | 9:06 p.m.

Citywide City Council decisions are made on the basis of shifting issue oriented coalitions comprised of four votes and we, as a community, are best served by shared a diversity of issues within and between wards. Homogeneity, paradoxically, tends to promote isolation.

The guidelines specified by the City Council Resolution that established the Ward Reapportionment Committee stipulates three principles (presumably in order of importance): A.) Achieve ward equality “in population,” B.) Best serve “the needs of existing neighborhoods”, i.e., neighborhood integrity, and C.) Maintain the “contiguity of neighborhoods.” Compactness, though perhaps a desirable outcome, is not a requirement -- but contiguity is.

With respect to a 2010 census target of 18,083, Ward 1 is the smallest (-25% variance), Ward 2 is the largest (+18%), Ward 4 is the 2nd smallest (-12%), Ward 5 is the 2nd largest (+9%), Ward 6 is next (+7%) and Ward 3 is the closest to ideal (+3%),

The simplest solution: To achieve population parity, add to Ward 1 from Ward 2, and add to Ward 4 from Ward 5. Leave Ward 3 and Ward 6 as is. Plan E comes closest to that solution and uniquely maintains all three of the principles listed above.

Apart from the primary goal of reapportionment to balance the population changes, other representational aspects may be considered, but not selectively. If all representational aspects are considered, then “diversity” (of density, land use, infrastructure, etc.) and not “homogeneity” ought to be encouraged within all wards as a means to provide representational balance.

Regards, Karl

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 25, 2011 | 1:28 p.m.

("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.")

Seems to me that the simplest thing to do is to leave things as they currently are. I have little faith in the current accuracy of the general population count from the federal census concerning the first ward as there are many college students now or soon to be residents of the two newest apartment buildings downtown and at the same time there's an increase in empty homes and empty rentals in other wards, such as the second ward.
I don't even see any significant reason to use general population figures as they don't take into consideration voting ages or transient populations such as college students, but until the city's charter is brought up to the 21st century, I'd say that even the federal census does not indicate a significant swing in ward population figures to warrant such redistricting, for simplicity sake.
Political fodder, maybe.

(Report Comment)
Daniel Cullimore September 25, 2011 | 3:10 p.m.

"I have little faith in the current accuracy of the general population count from the federal census...."

If I recall from my elementary school civics classes, redistricting and reapportionment are the primary reasons our nation's founders established the census. As such, and regardless of one's faith in the numbers or methods, using the census is the only legitimate means for creating legal electoral districts and municipal wards. Furthermore, if I'm not mistaken, its use is mandated (in reference if not in word) by both state constitution and home rule charter.

And since even transient students (etc.) are potential, if not actual voters, they deserve to be taken into account. The only point of reapportionment is to ensure population equality and thus approach the goal of equal representation. Whether individuals choose to exercise their "right to vote" is left to them alone.

Isn't that the way it should be? (but then again, voting is compulsory in Australia, and they do have far better participation rates....)

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 25, 2011 | 3:42 p.m.

("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.")
Then what better indicators or current events may be used to justify this approach to boundary issues or the number of wards or council seats Columbia chooses to have?
The federal census was designed primarily to justify the number of representatives each state gets to send to the House of Representatives and justifies funds the feds send for some of their programs.
Columbia apparently has more wiggle room, even in its current charter, on how to justify ward boundaries.
This is why I even question the need to make a decision based only on the census figures sans an analysis of current trends and predictions as well as voting age demographics.
Why does the council even need to make a decision at this time?
"Because typically that's how it's been done in the past" is not as good an answer in today's real estate market as there have been recent changes in Columbia, since the census and even more which can be accurately projected.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield September 25, 2011 | 8:27 p.m.

"I don't even see any significant reason to use general population figures as they don't take into consideration voting ages or transient populations such as college students"

The Census counts students based on where they live most of the year rather than their hometowns. Assuming that MU, Stephens and CC students, and their parents, follow the Census rules when filling out their forms, the gen pop figure includes college students.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 26, 2011 | 12:14 p.m.

Then without an accurate analysis of the federal census, as it relates to college students residing in the first ward, I could also assume that the first ward has more residents than actually being used by the committee and city council.
Perhaps the first ward's current, to date and projected population figures need to be looked at more accurately before "they" start moving their boundary lines into the other wards.
Until then, I would rather disband the first ward and have it divided into the other wards and have the mayor act as the political liaison for the special busines district..

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 26, 2011 | 12:46 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
Paul Allaire September 26, 2011 | 12:55 p.m.

Oh and that means that I want option E, as I had relayed within a few minutes of viewing it the first time, many articles ago. It's one of the things you can view on the left side of the article, so tell me that E doesn't make the most sense after looking at it.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 26, 2011 | 1:22 p.m.

I have "it in" for the process, data and method being used to determine how this is to be decided.
I also liked Plan J, which was also known as The Citizens plan. That plan made more sense to me and it retained a first ward. Why not just add to the first ward by annexing all of Broadway to Scott Blvd? Should get you plenty of a resident population to satisfy this numbers game.
I also have "it in" for a committee which feuds over turf wars by being concerned more about their special interests, representative powers and political opportunities then looking at this town in a more objective manner.
I'm not looking to present anything popular or get elected for anything, ever.
Just voicing my opinion with some "out of the box" thinking.
However, I will venture to say that once upon a time, the first ward did contain most of this city's violent criminals.
With all the new rentals and cheaper housing being built throughout Columbia, it's not as self-contained or predictable as it once was.
This is another reason why I believe that Columbia has outgrown the first ward and not the other way around.
Also, what makes you think that dividing up the first ward into the surrounding wards would dramatically change the current ambiance of your neighborhood so dramatically? As far as I've observed, every city council member sticks their nose in first ward business even now. Seems that the ward is currently too large and complex for any one council man or woman.
To disband it might actually be a good thing for management purposes.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 26, 2011 | 1:42 p.m.

Some early history on the process:
While I do know that each current ward councilperson chose a committee member, I don't know who or how the Chair was selected.
I also don't know why an outside, unbiased consultant was not hired to bring ideas to the public and eventual city council/mayoral decision.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield September 26, 2011 | 2:01 p.m.

How does the First Ward compare to the rest in terms of taxes paid vs. city spending? (Property taxes probably are the only point of comparison because I don't think it's possible to track sales taxes by address.) For example, for every dollar that a ward's residents and businesses pay, do they receive more or less than $1 in city spending?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 26, 2011 | 2:17 p.m.

("Report shows substantial
resources used in the city's
First Ward/central city
A report submitted to the City Council in
December shows that substantial city resources
have been used in the City's First Ward/central
city. The report was requested by the City
Council and it includes details about expendi-
tures and activities for the years 2001–2005 for
city infrastructure, city services and amenities in
the First Ward/central city. The report lists pro-
grams and projects by year, along with expendi-
Some key points in the report are:
• Nineteen percent of total contracted public
works expenditures from 2000–2005 were in
the First Ward. Total city-wide expenditures
were $13.9 million. Expenditures for First
Ward/central city were $1.368 million for
streets, $1.004 million for storm drainage,
$323,257 for sidewalks and $253,893 in
miscellaneous expenditures.
• Operating expenses for Parks and Recreation
averaged $402,697 in the First Ward/central
city from 2001–2005. Capital improvements
for the First Ward/central city during that
same period averaged $165,296.
• An average of $1.27 million in federal
housing and community development funds
have been spent annually in central city
neighborhoods, an area that includes the
First Ward.
The report can be viewed on the City's web
site, under announce-

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 26, 2011 | 2:42 p.m.

Simple Ray. If you eliminate the ward the interests of the people living there will be taken care of by people who don't live in the current ward and possibly who have little interest in it. The focus of attention will surround the newest construction and the population will move outward.

Jimmy, you need to remember that there are a lot of businesses in the first ward and that the area is quite small. The value of commercial property is high, so I'm quite sure that there is considerable tax revenue. Also, there is some valuable residential property, and again, the density is quite high. I would say that the city spends less on infrastructure in the first ward also because the density is high and because it is already established.

There is quite a bit of money spent in the first ward on things that few people living in it likely care about, such as the upgrades to the city hall and courthouse and the parking garages. I doubt if anyone living in the first ward feels that their interests are being served by the construction of another parking garage within their boundaries. I consider those projects to be in the interest of those living in other wards and in the county. I suppose that the library is a benefit, however it is also a benefit to everyone else in the city and the county. Obviously those living near it can benefit more readily since there is less distance to travel, but that might be part of why someone would choose to live in the shadow of a parking garage.If you can factor out all of that you will probably find that less money is being spent in the first ward than is elsewhere and that what money is spent is for facilities intended to serve the needs of people living in other wards and people living outside the city.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin September 26, 2011 | 2:49 p.m.

The short answer to Jimmy's question is "no." The long answer is that the First Ward is forced to rely on Federal block grants rather than local tax dollars to get basic projects completed.

If I recall, that "report" Ray is referencing from 2001-05 was presented to placate then First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton, after she rightly started questioning how little city tax money is spent in the First Ward.

The "dirty little secret" of First Ward finance is that Federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) fund most projects, and most of the funding referenced in that report came from the Feds, not from local taxes.

In low income neighborhoods, block grants are meant to supplement -- not supplant -- city tax dollars. The idea is that low income neighborhoods that have suffered from years of neglect need the extra boost block grants provide.

The equation should read: City tax dollars + Block grants = accelerated projects.

Columbia, however, doesn't follow this rule. Instead, even the most basic infrastructure projects -- like long overdue curb and gutter, sidewalk, and storm drainage -- have to wait until a block grant is available.

City Hall spends comparatively little in local tax dollars on First Ward projects, a longstanding gripe Almeta expressed (and Sturtz for a while, too).

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 26, 2011 | 2:49 p.m.

And Ray, I see by your listing that you have accounted for about a quarter of the contracted public works expenditures that were said to be from that period of time. So where do you suppose the remainder was spent?
You really have it in for the first ward.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 26, 2011 | 2:57 p.m.

Simple Paul:
Believe what you want.

@Mike Martin:
Thanks for bringing out how the money flows.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 26, 2011 | 3:02 p.m.

Does this mean you aren't going to detail how the rest of that money was spent?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 26, 2011 | 3:24 p.m.

No Paul.
It means that in response to Jimmy's post I did a quick search and pointed readers in a direction should they want to do more research on the subject.
If you have more details on the how and where monies are spent, feel free to post the details.
As far as I'm concerned, I choose who I allow to goad me to do research and responses.
You are not currently on that list, thank you very much.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 26, 2011 | 3:51 p.m.

And after thinking about this for a while I remember that in addition to the parking garages the residents of the first ward also have the pleasure of being withing walking distance of most of the city's public housing projects. So I would suppose some of that money was spent on that. Hardly seems fair. I know that the other wards would like the parking garages and the public housing in their neighborhoods so that they could get their cut of the spending. I'll be sure to write my councilman first thing tomorrow morning and make that suggestion! Thanks Ray for giving me that inspiration. I hope someday that if I humble myself and grovel hard enough that I too can find a space on your list!

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 26, 2011 | 3:55 p.m.

My list is a living document.
No need to grovel, although humility does wonders.

(Report Comment)

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