A group that includes two city council members expects to start collecting signatures next week to place a charter amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot that would reduce the number of wards in Youngstown based on population.
But some of the group’s members at a meeting Monday at the Oak Hill Collaborative on the North Side acknowledged it was going to be a challenge to get the needed 1,126 valid signatures on petitions by the Sept. 5 deadline to have the measure on the November general-election ballot.
What makes it an even greater challenge is that the city charter requires petitions for charter amendments to first go to the council clerk and have a council meeting in which members vote to place the amendment on the ballot before it goes to the Mahoning County Board of Elections. Council is on summer recess until Sept. 17, but usually meets once or twice while on break.
Among the 11 people at Monday’s meeting were Councilmen Mike Ray, D-4th, and Paul Drennen, D-5th.
“It’s a good initiative,” Ray said. “We want a good effort and to get it right. We have a serious citizens group and a worthy cause.”
There are currently seven council members.
Under the plan, it would take a population of at least 80,000 to keep seven wards. The city’s population in the 2010 U.S. census was 66,982. Youngstown is among the top cities in the nation to lose population during the past 60 years.
Under the group’s plan, if the population is less than 80,000, there would be five wards. The group decided Monday to drop a provision that would reduce the number of wards to three if the population decreased to under 40,000.
If the charter amendment is approved, city council would have 30 days after certification of the Nov. 4 general election to draw an equitable map of five wards that would be “as nearly equal in population and as fair and equitable as possible.”
If an agreement couldn’t be reached, the mayor would then be required to draw a map with the same provisions and have it done no later than 14 days after council failed.
Redistricting maps, starting with the 2020 census, would be given more time under this proposal. Council would have 120 days to draw a map, and if it can’t, the mayor would then have 90 days for such a map.
“We can get the signatures by canvassing neighborhoods” using maps of registered voters provided by the [Mahoning] county board of elections, Drennen said.
But Lynn Anderson and Jack Slanina, who attended the meeting, said it could be difficult, particularly with the time deadline.
The group is looking at this issue, Drennen said, because “a majority of council has stalled redistricting.”
A majority of council members rejected Youngs-town State University’s Center for Urban Studies’ redistricting maps in August 2013, saying they weren’t satisfied with the new ward lines and wanted a second opinion. Drennen, Ray and Mayor John A. McNally said the maps were fine.
Some council members also were bothered that a YSU Center official designed maps with five wards at the request of other members.
The five other council members voted last month to hire a company to redraw ward maps for $7,500 to $10,000. McNally said the city administration wouldn’t pay the company as the YSU maps are acceptable.
Council members previously had said redistricting would be done in time for the 2015 primary election.
The city last redistricted about 30 years ago even though its charter calls for it to be done after every decennial census. Currently, the population in the seven wards ranges from 7,227 to 12,130, according to 2010 census data.