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Youngstown council flaunts constitution on redistricting

Published: Tue, February 25, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

Good for Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally for refusing to go along with the blatant politicization of the redistricting of the city’s seven wards.

Population balance is a constitutional requirement, which means Youngstown’s population of about 65,000 must be divided by seven. That will necessitate a redrawing of the boundaries. And, as in all redistricting schemes, there are winners and losers. Case in point: Ohio Democrats lost seats in the state General Assembly and in Congress after Republicans took control of all statewide administrative offices and the Legislature and used that power to redraw congressional and state Senate and House district lines.

But Youngstown Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, is refusing to accept that reality. Along with some of her colleagues, she has delayed the redistricting of the seven wards because the dozen maps that have been presented to lawmakers all arrive at the same conclusion: Gillam’s house and much of the East Side cannot be part of a new 1st Ward. That’s because the loss of population has been greatest in that part of the city.

The last redistricting of the city’s wards occurred about three decades ago, and because of the failure of past councils to meet the constitutional mandate of equal distribution of population, there is now a huge discrepancy in ward populations.

According to the 2010 census figures, ward populations range from 7,227 (on the East Side) to 12,130 (on the West Side).

Gillam has refused to accept the redistricting maps prepared by Youngstown State University’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies and wants new ones developed by some other entity.

The city paid $3,854 for the YSU plans, and Mayor McNally, who was sworn in Jan. 1 and is having to deal with a budget shortfall, is adamant that there should be no further expenditure on another redistricting effort.

We believe the mayor is well within his rights as head of the Board of Control (the finance and law directors are the other members) to refuse to enter into an agreement with another entity.

Councilwoman Gillam and the lawmakers who have deferred to her request for a second opinion are not acting in the best interest of the city of Youngstown.

It is clear that the only redistricting map Gillam will accept is one that largely maintains the status quo. That’s not possible given Youngstown’s steep population decline.

The mayor has suggested that council resume working with YSU on a map. We believe most of the taxpayers who pay the unjustifiably high salaries members of council earn for part-time work would agree with McNally.

It is the height of arrogance for one member of council to put her political self-interest ahead of the best interest of the city.

“The current situation is unconstitutional,” McNally, the city’s former law director, said of the population discrepancies in the wards.

Taxpayer lawsuit

Given that this is the second major issue in which council has ignored the reality of the shrinking city, a taxpayer lawsuit to force the redistricting is a very real possibility. Indeed, it may be the only way to force lawmakers to abide by the constitution, which they have sworn to uphold.

Council’s refusal last year to place all 17 recommended charter amendments on the ballot — so voters could have a say about the future of the city — made it clear that most lawmakers are concerned only about themselves. Some of the amendments could have directly affected members of council, including one that would have reduced their salaries.

If those elected to represent the people don’t do what’s expected of them, then the people have a right to act. A taxpayer lawsuit on the redistricting of the wards would certainly send a strong message to council: Stop treating government as your fiefdom.

Mayor McNally is doing exactly what the people expect of him when he tells Councilwoman Gillam and her colleagues that not another dime will be spent on a redistricting plan.

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