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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Wichita City Council begins redistricting process

By Bill Wilson
The Wichita Eagle

It’s time for new Wichita City Council districts to be drawn.

Council members will be asked during Tuesday’s regular council meeting to appoint a Commission of Electors this month. That commission will update the boundaries of the city’s six council districts, part of a redistricting process required by ordinance every 10 years.

Those ordinances require that approximately one-sixth of the city’s total population — 63,278 people, or a sixth of the city’s 382,368 population, based on the 2010 Census — be allocated within each district, with no district deviating more than 5 percent from that number.

The council will need redistricting proposals by Sept. 25. A new set of districts must be approved by the end of the calendar year, said planning director John Schlegel, who will facilitate meetings that should begin later this month.

“It’s never an easy process,” Schlegel said.

As difficult as redrawing Kansas legislative districts — an effort that landed in federal court?

“Let’s hope not,” Schlegel said, chuckling.

The city’s redistricting ordinance requires that “reasonably compact areas in each district are maintained” to avoid gerrymandering, Schlegel said, and that election precincts set up by the Sedgwick County election commissioner are followed.

The new precinct maps are the first obstacle for the electors, Schlegel said, since new maps won’t be available until later this month.

City ordinances don’t specify the composition of the Commission of Electors and don’t require that members be registered to vote. The only specified requirement is that one elector be chosen from each council district.

In 1990, the city council appointed 14 members. In 2002, 1998 and 1992, council members each made one appointment and the mayor made the seventh to serve as the commission’s chair.

The redistricting process also will include meetings with district advisory boards, Wichita Independent Neighborhoods and neighborhood associations, Schlegel said.

Making the process even more tricky is future council district growth: The commission will be asked to predict future growth to keep the district populations in balance.

“If we go ahead and make them even in 2012, in a couple of years we’ll have growth in District 2 and District 5 that we’re forecasting, and things will get out of balance pretty quickly,” Schlegel said.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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