By David Skolnick
More than seven months after voters approved a charter amendment about redistricting Youngstown’s seven wards, members of city council will meet Monday to discuss the issue.
Council members say a number of questions must be answered before a redistricting effort to better balance the number of residents in each ward can commence. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. in the council caucus room on the sixth floor of city hall, 26 S. Phelps St.
Among the key questions are: who would draw the proposed new wards, how to get similar populations in each ward, how much involvement council members would have in drawing the new boundaries, when a new map would be approved, and when the new boundaries would take effect.
The population in each of the seven wards ranges from 7,227 in the South Side’s 6th Ward to 12,130 in the West Side’s 4th Ward, according to the 2010 census.
Most council members said Friday that the wards should be redistricted to have similar populations with preferably a 10 percent plus-or-minus range of residents in each. The current range is about 40 percent.
Council members said a new map would follow the city charter’s provision that the wards be “bounded by natural boundaries or street lines.” They also said they don’t want to break up neighborhoods.
Before voters approved a city-charter amendment, the document read: “Following each federal census, council may redistrict the city so as to maintain a reasonable equality of population among the seven wards.”
A charter-review committee, with members selected by Mayor Charles Sammarone and those who serve on council, recommended changing the word “may” to “must” or “shall.” The boundary lines of the wards haven’t been changed since shortly after the 1980 census.
Council changed the language to say redistricting “shall” be done after there’s been a “reasonable population change.” Council members never defined “reasonable population change,” but most said last year that the redistricting would happen in 2013.
In the November 2012 election, 69.3 percent of voters in the city approved the redistricting charter amendment.
The Vindicator reported last month that Youngstown had the highest population decline percentage between the 2010 census and a July 2012 estimated count among cities with a population of at least 50,000.
Redistricting “has been sitting around, and we need to get it done,” said Councilman Nate Pinkard, D-3rd. “My goal is to have something done by the end of the year. It shouldn’t take us forever to get this done. The meeting on Monday will be a good start.”
Councilman T.J. Rodgers, D-2nd, said having redistricting done by the November election is “ideal, but I can’t say we’ll get it done by then. We’ll discuss our next stop Monday.”
Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, said the new ward boundaries should go into effect with the next city council election in 2015 so there’s no need to rush redistricting. It can be done in 2014, he said.
Swierz objected to Monday’s meeting being called by council’s Community Development Agency Committee. Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th, who heads the CDA committee and called the meeting, couldn’t be reached Friday to comment.
Other council members, including Mike Ray, D-4th, and Paul Drennen, D-5th, say it should be placed in front of council as a whole. Drennen is a CDA committee member.
Also, most council members said they were surprised Tarpley called the meeting without discussing it with them. Council met Wednesday, and notice of the CDA meeting went to members Thursday afternoon.
Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, the committee’s vice chairwoman, said she believes the reason for discussing redistricting at a CDA committee meeting is that city ward maps from Youngstown State University’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies initially were given to that committee.
“We have a lot of things to discuss, and we will have more meetings,” she said.
Drennen, who represents the second-most populous ward with 10,054 residents as of the 2010 census, said the wards should be more balanced in terms of population.
“It needs to be redrawn so everyone has about the same number of constituents,” he said. “We all get equal street-paving and sidewalk-replacement money, so we should have the same number of residents. It needs to happen, and changes should be done immediately. This has been sitting around since last November. We should have taken it on earlier.”
Ray, whose ward is the most populous in the city, agreed that resources are unfairly divided with each ward treated equally despite the population differences.
“It’s not fair,” he said. “We represent people and not trees. It’s not about size or geography. It’s about population.”
Rodgers— whose East Side ward is the largest by size in the city, but sixth out of seven in terms of population — said geography should be a factor in redistricting.