By David Skolnick
City council members approved legislation Oct. 17 authorizing the city to issue a request for proposals for an entity to prepare, at the direction of the legislative body, a plan to redistrict Youngstown’s seven wards.
But nothing has been done to seek proposals to date.
It took council members until June 21, 2013, more than seven months after city voters approved a charter amendment about redistricting, to meet to first discuss the issue.
Council reviewed a variety of maps provided by the Youngstown State University’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies in three meetings between June 21 and Aug. 3, and seemed to settle on one before stopping the process at that August meeting to seek maps from other agencies.
The delay in finding another entity was caused, in part, by the language of the ordinance. It authorized the city and not the board of control to seek proposals. Most council legislation for professional service contracts empower the board of control to handle that.
“Council voted to authorize the city, but didn’t say what part of city government,” said Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th. “This needs to get off the back burner and put on the front burner by my colleagues.”
Law Director Martin Hume said it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that his department received what he called “a formal request” from council asking for proposals for this work.
“We’ll help council accomplish the goal to get the bids prepared and sent as soon as possible,” Hume said.
“If [the ordinance’s language] is the problem, it will be fixed soon,” said Councilman Nate Pinkard, D-3rd. “I’d like to have it done as soon as allowable. We’d compare another map to what we received from YSU and then make a decision.”
Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th, said the request for proposals “stalled in the law department. It wasn’t intentional on their part. We assumed the law department was doing this.”
Along with Councilman Paul Drennen, D-5th, Ray wanted to adopt a YSU redistricting map. The two council members voted against seeking proposals from another entity to draw other ward maps.
“We should move forward with what we have,” Ray said. “It needs to be revisited, and we need to get the ball rolling. If members of council feel strongly about spending more money on this then they should do so.”
YSU charged $3,854 to the city for its work.
Drennen said he is interested in meeting with citizens to gather the needed signatures to put a charter amendment on the ballot in November to adopt a map that reduces the number of wards — and council members — from seven to five.
“Council isn’t moving at the pace they should have and have done nothing in months,” he said. “There is no rush to do this even though we should have had this done last year. We had a plan and had good maps.”
Ray also supports five wards and council members.
Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, said he supports five wards, but favors having seven council members with two of them elected citywide. But Swierz doesn’t want to rush the process.
The other four members of council favor keeping seven wards.
The city hasn’t redistricted its wards in more than 30 years.
That has led to huge population differences in the wards with the South Side’s 6th Ward having 7,227 residents compared to 12,130 in the West Side’s 4th Ward, according to 2010 U.S. Census figures.
Not redistricting for 30 years also puts the city out of compliance with its own charter as well as the state and federal constitutions, Drennen said.
Any redistricting would need to be finished by late this year in order to be ready for the 2015 city council races. Some council members had previously said the map would be done by 2013.
Tarpley said a different entity could offer a better map than the ones proposed by YSU.
“We need to get another opinion from another company as to how they’d redistrict,” said Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, the most vocal member of the body opposing the YSU maps. “It’s a matter of moving forward.”
Gillam said she didn’t like that the proposals took away her representation on the city’s East Side, including her residence, and North Side, and instead added population to her ward on the South and West sides.
That was done because the shrinking population on the East Side forces the 2nd Ward, which already represents most of that side of the city, to greatly expand to make the number of people in each ward balanced. And those balanced-population ward maps include more than 25 percent of a new 2nd Ward’s “residents” being inmates, most of who are illegal aliens who cannot vote.
YSU provided one map with the prison population not counted. That map expands the 2nd Ward considerably more into the North Side than the other proposals.
Ray and Drennen support redistricting without counting the prison population while the other five don’t.
“We need to get another opinion from another company as to how to redistrict,” Gillam said. “It’s a matter of moving forward.”
Councilman T.J. Rodgers, D-2nd, said a new ward map “is something we definitely want to see done this year.”