No urgency in redistricting of wards

On the side

Tribute dinner: The Youngstown Warren Black Caucus is having its fifth annual tribute dinner at the Buckeye Elks Youth Center in Youngstown at 6 p.m. Sept. 13.

State Sen. Nina Turner, a Democrat from Cleveland who is running next year for secretary of state, will serve as mistress of ceremonies. Youngstown native Dr. Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World of the 21st Century, will be the keynote speaker. The honorees this year are Atty. William “Ron” Miller and his wife, Lynnette, longtime community activists.

Tickets for the event are $30 each and can be obtained by calling 330-519-6052 or 330-727-5758.

Fracking hearing: The Mahoning County Board of Elections will have a hearing at 5 p.m. today at its office at Oakhill Renaissance Place, 345 Oak Hill Ave. in Youngstown, challenging the validity of a Youngstown citizens initiative to ban fracking in the city. This has the potential to be a volatile meeting.

At the pace Youngstown City Council is going, it’s a good thing there’s plenty of time to redistrict the seven wards for the 2015 election.

City voters approved a watered-down [by council] charter amendment in November 2012 that calls for redistricting after a “reasonable population change,” a phrase that isn’t defined.

More than seven months after the amendment was approved, council met June 24 to discuss redistricting.

About a month later, council reviewed two maps of new ward boundaries with most members agreeable to one proposal as long as a few changes were made.

The new boundaries were created by Youngstown State University’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies.

Council next met Tuesday for further discussion.

Prison inmates

At that meeting, council reviewed and subsequently dismissed another proposed map — one that doesn’t include the 2,612 inmates from a private prison of largely illegal immigrants convicted of federal felonies, and a state maximum-security prison in the ward populations.

Not only was that proposal rejected, but council voted 5-1 (Councilman Paul Drennen, D-5th, arrived after the meeting ended but said he would have voted no) to halt the redistricting process in order to get a second opinion on maps.

A vote at council’s Sept. 18 meeting is needed to seek other proposals, which will delay the process further.

Why do the wards need to be changed?

The current lines, drawn after the 1980 federal census and untouched since, have ward populations ranging from 7,117 to 12,130. The population of the wards need to be a lot more equitable.

Council certainly has the time to approve a redistricting plan by the fall of 2014, which would give potential candidates enough time to know the new ward boundary lines.

But that is assuming a new map pleases a majority of current council members.

Right now, Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, strongly opposes every map proposed by YSU, and four of the other six support looking for other options.

The YSU maps take the private prison and Gillam’s home out of the 1st Ward and move it into the 2nd.

But with the huge decline in population on the city’s East Side, largely represented by the 2nd, it’s difficult to not make those changes.

If council went with the map most supported with a few changes, presented at a July 31 meeting, the new 2nd Ward would have 27.3 percent of its population in the private and state prisons on the East Side.

Drennen said a new ward map shouldn’t take political considerations into account.

Based on statements made by others, a majority of council doesn’t agree with him.

Council is likely to find out that hiring another university to redraw ward lines is going to cost a lot more than the $8,000 YSU has received for its work, said Thomas Finnerty, the university center’s associate director. A private firm would be more costly, he said.

Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th, said another firm could “give us a better map,” and said the expense, even if it reaches $50,000, shouldn’t be an issue.

Meanwhile, the Mahoning County Board of Elections will consider a plan today to reduce the number of voting precincts in the county, including Youngstown, to take effect with the November 2014 election.

If council follows through on its redistricting, the elections board would have to make additional changes to its precincts in time for the May 2015 election.

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