Redistricting: Look closely 

Between the Lines

For those who care about how Colorado Springs city government works, Monday brought some long-awaited news.

As mandated by the 2010 vote to revamp our representation, City Clerk Sarah Johnson released her first version of a plan to change City Council from four to six districts, effective for the municipal election next April.

Sounds like a simple, clear-cut assignment. Except that it's not.

Even before Johnson unveiled her map to move the redistricting process forward, concern was percolating within City Council. Nobody, meaning the group's current members or the estimated 418,870 constituents, had any opportunity to see a preview of what was in the works.

Some might argue that City Councilors had no business checking out the potential map before its release. Then again, since it directly will impact Council's future, and the clerk's office now reports to the mayor, why shouldn't Council be able to look it over and offer feedback ahead of time?

For that matter, why not let the public see a draft version? Because the clear impression Monday was that the map already might be a done deal.

Another problem should be causing heartburn. The only public hearing to discuss that redistricting map will be Saturday, Oct. 13, from 9 a.m. to noon at Hillside Community Center. Never mind that people might have weekend plans. Never mind that many community events will take place that day. Never mind that many folks actually do work on Saturday.

Asked about it, the clerk said in the past there had been only one meeting — on a weeknight. Johnson thought moving it to Saturday at a central location would help, and it probably does. But that doesn't solve the problem.

Let's remember, this is the most significant Council districting realignment in memory. Previously, the only issue was adjusting the four districts to balance the population evenly. This time, the process includes creating two entirely new districts.

The clerk should have set up two or three public hearings, not just one, and Johnson still should do that. It's not too late.

As for the initial map, to her credit, Johnson (surely helped by staff) started "around the edges," trying to keep as many residents as possible in their same districts. In other words, District 1 is still northwest, District 2 remains north, District 3 southwest and District 4 southeast. District 5 was carved out of the central area, roughly east of Nevada Avenue to Powers Boulevard, north of Platte Avenue to Palmer Park (the park, not the street) and Carefree Circle. District 6 comes out of the northeast area, east of Union Boulevard and north of District 5. (To see the map, go to springsgov.com/Page.aspx?NavID=4616.)

Are the new districts fair? Some minority community members are already saying no. Their best chance of winning a seat could be the revised District 4, which has no current Councilor living within its boundaries. But when asked whether she consulted minorities in setting the map, Johnson answered only that she had followed state and federal guidelines (which don't address racial accommodations). Johnson did say that the map was not influenced by any present Council members' home addresses.

We'll have to see whether anyone cares enough to raise a stink. My question was whether consideration was given to actual numbers of voters in each district, and the answer was "no" because the guidelines refer to population. That's worth closer analysis, because District 3, now served by Lisa Czelatdko, and the new District 5 might have lower percentages of people younger than 18, and thus more actual voters.

It'll be up to others, residents and media, to pursue those kinds of issues between now and Oct. 13. But that's the only chance. The next version will be the official, final redistricting map — which, we were told, "will be released the morning of Monday, November 13, 2012."

Just one problem. Nov. 13 is a Tuesday. (The city now confirms Tuesday as the right day.) So if that was wrong, what about other details?

Some people, including City Councilors, are wondering skeptically if that final map might include "tweaks" to make sure certain as-yet-unannounced candidates are in the "right" districts (if that isn't the case already). Nobody's saying that will happen, but they'll be watching to see, just in case.

They won't be alone.



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