There was no decision about when to redraw Columbia’s ward boundaries or when to appoint a committee during Monday night’s City Council meeting.

The council held a lengthy and at times heated discussion about whether to appoint a Ward Reapportionment Committee right away or wait until after it receives data from the 2020 U.S. Census, which could be as late as the end of September.

Despite Mayor Brian Treece expressing urgency, the council opted on a 5-2 vote not to establish the committee Monday and reached no consensus about when it would do so. Only Treece and Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala voted in favoring of creating the committee.

The council also tabled any discussion of a new name for Columbia Regional Airport.

New boundaries for the city’s six wards are drawn about every 10 years based on updated census data. The release of 2020 census data has been delayed, and the Census Bureau has committed to providing it no later than Sept. 30. That could spell doom for any attempt to redraw ward boundaries in time to apply them to the April 2022 municipal election. Candidates can begin filing for council seats as early as October. Those who want to run would have to know in advance what the ward boundaries will be.

“My thought would be to have this committee do its work during the summer,” Treece said, adding that the members coulc be “gathering public comment, public input, establishing a value statement as to what we want these wards to look like.”

First Ward Councilwoman Pat Fowler disagreed.

“I remain opposed to starting this process before we receive the census data,” she said, adding that she sees no urgency to begin to redrawing ward boundaries. Starting now, she said, “could be an opportunity for public confusion.”

The Third and Fourth ward council seats will appear on the April ballot, along with the next mayoral election. Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas said he thinks it would be problematic if the new boundaries go into effect between October and April.

“I think we could also make the provision that the person having been elected by the Third Ward or the Fourth Ward, as it was in April, to continue to serve that ward for the rest of the term, even if they found themselves outside of the ward,” Thomas said.

City Counselor Nancy Thompson said Columbia’s charter doesn’t allow that.

“You can’t let someone who is not living in a ward represent a ward,” she said.

Skala argued that even if there were no real urgency, it would be good to get the committee appointed and on the job.

“There is a lot to review here,” Skala said. “If you remember 10 years ago, there was quite a fight. I had not retained my seat. I was out of office, but I was on the other side fighting this fight about gerrymandering.”

Fowler worried any work the committee does now would be putting the cart before the horse.

“The concern I have is that we start talking about something without the data,” Fowler said, “we get the data that doesn’t bear out the decisions that have already been made.”

“Wouldn’t it be better to have the independent lens and adopt the values that reflect our community rather than backing into the data that is given to us?” Treece asked.

“I think you just described the process you are trying to pass tonight,” Fowler responded.

Several members of the public expressed strong opposition to any recommendations being made before the census data are in hand.

Later in the meeting, the council accepted a report on proposed new names for the airport but decided to hold off on any action. The name change is a larger effort to showcase the airport's expanded flights and the opening of a new terminal in 2022. A year ago, a committee was formed to research new names, along with branding strategies. They came up with three choices: Columbia-Mid Missouri National Airport, Central Missouri National Airport and Mid-Missouri National Airport.

The Airport Advisory Board voted Columbia National Airport as its top choice, according to a memo to the City Council,. The overall cost of the name change is unknown.

In other action, the council also:

  • Approved spending $150,000 to replace a weak wooden electric transmission tower with two steel towers on either side of Route WW near Auto Recyclers. Residents and landowners in the area were sent letters about the projects, but no public comment was made.
  • Held a public hearing on a request by Eric and Lori Kurzejeski to annex 21.2 acres west of Scott Boulevard at Copperstone Creek Drive. The Kurzejeskis hope to have the land zoned for single-family homes and to plat it for 35 lots. The neighborhood would be called Timberbrook.
  • Approved the annexation of the 135-acre fairground property at 5212 Oakland Gravel Road. Boone County gave the property to the city in 2020, and the city plans to develop it as a northeast regional park. The council also approved open-space zoning for the land.
  • (She/her) Anna is covering the 13th Circuit Court. She can be reached by aewytn@umsystem.edu, or in the newsroom 573.882.5720.

  • I've been a reporter and editor at Missouri community newspapers for 35 years and joined the Columbia Missourian in 2003. My emphasis at the Missourian is on local government and elections. You can reach me at swaffords@missouri.edu or at 573-884-5366.

  • Assistant city editor, grad student studying investigative reporting and photojournalism. You can reach me at cjmx5d@umsystem.edu or in the newsroom at 882-5720.

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