City Council is preparing for a major shake-up.
Interim City Clerk Cindy Conway soon will begin carving the city into six, rather than four, Council districts. It means five Councilors elected in April 2011 will face another election in April 2013, though they normally serve four-year terms.
It's not unexpected. The change from four to six district reps, and five to three at-large spots, was approved by voters in November 2010. As a result, all eligible district reps (Lisa Czelatdko, Bernie Herpin and Angela Dougan) and two at-large members (Brandy Williams and Tim Leigh) must run in districts to keep their seats. (Council President Scott Hente, also a district rep, is term-limited.)
None of them know if they'll be located in "their" district anymore — although two Councilors are guaranteed to be in the same district, meaning they'd have to fight each other for a seat. Only one of the five is definitive in planning to run again. And a number of them worry that any districts left entirely up for grabs might go to candidates hand-picked by the elite, because political novices won't have enough time to fundraise, campaign and get their names out there.
In other words, the election's more than a year away, and already it's causing headaches.
In the process
Though new districts can't be officially set until November, 150 days before the April 2013 election, Conway has the OK from City Attorney Chris Melcher to start working on the process. She says she'll begin once she receives official Census population figures, probably by early June, and says everyone should have a good idea of the district map by late summer or early fall.
"Its going to be a longer process," she says of turning four districts into six. "What we'll have to do is, basically, start from ground zero."
There are ground rules: Districts can't split precincts, must have equal population, and must be contiguous. Conway adds that she can't consider addresses of current Council members in drawing districts.
Preliminary redistricting will take about a month, followed by a public hearing. Any complaints found worthy could change borders slightly.
Williams and Herpin can't be separated because they're in the same precinct. Herpin hasn't decided whether to run for another term, but he doesn't relish running against his colleague. Williams says she'll run again, regardless.
"I would say my loyalty is to the people of this city, and that 33,000 of them wanted me to be in this position," she says, referring to the votes she received last April. "I'm here to serve them."
While it's likely that Czelatdko will remain in her current southwest district, Leigh could end up in that district as well, or in Hente's area, or in a new district. Both Czelatdko and Leigh say a head-to-head battle would not influence their plans. In fact, both say that, like Herpin, they're seriously considering not running again.
Leigh notes that he planned on serving only a single term, and that Council's "acrimony," outside attacks on his character, and the feeling that Council can't "make a real difference" have been discouraging. He adds that the time and money he's dedicated to Council have hampered his commercial real estate business.
"I think about it a lot," he says of running. "I keep everybody guessing to see what that crazy little rascal is going to do."
Czelatdko says the time and expense have been hard on her family, and that she's frustrated by near-constant conflict with the mayor's office. Asked if she'd run again, she says, "Part of me says, 'Hell no,' and the other part of me is, 'I don't want them to win, and I'm going to fight.'"
Herpin, the most senior-serving member of the bunch, says he'll look at the new districts, what support he has, and whether his health is strong enough to handle another term.
Even Councilor Angela Dougan, though upbeat about her time thus far serving District 2, won't commit to seeking another term.
"I'm looking at it," she says. "I just really haven't decided; some days I think, 'No way.'"
In the future
A wild card in this is Mayor Steve Bach, who matter-of-factly says he will encourage others to run for Council seats, though he doesn't have anyone specific in mind right now.
"This could be a once-in-a-generation chance to reinvent City Council," he said Wednesday, adding that he also hopes Council's role in city government could change somewhat with a new membership in place.
All this will hardly surprise Czelatdko, Leigh and Dougan, who had heard rumors that the political elite might be courting Council candidates before the mayor confirmed his interest Wednesday. Nor will it tamp down Czelatdko's worries that your average citizen will find it tough to mount a strong campaign between November and April.
"If anyone comes up for this seat," she says, "it's going to be a 70-year-old guy who is probably already on Planning [Commission] or Urban Renewal [Board], and is wealthy and doesn't have to worry about the money."