The Wichita City Council on Tuesday began the once-a-decade process of redrawing the city’s council districts, setting in motion six months of work to balance the population numbers in each of the six districts.
Council members voted 6-0, with Vice Mayor Janet Miller absent, to establish a Commission of Electors to begin work redrawing the districts, part of a redistricting process required by ordinance every 10 years.
At issue is significant growth in District 2 in northeast Wichita, represented by Pete Meitzner, and District 5 in northwest Wichita, represented by Jeff Longwell, which has drastically skewed the population balance of districts last tweaked in 2002.
With the city’s population growth in the 2010 Census, Schlegel said the boundaries must be redrawn to get each district’s population between 60,500 and 67,000 to comply with city ordinances.
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Those ordinances require that approximately 63,728 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.
Currently, five of the city’s six districts have grown or dropped below those legal population limits, with only District 4 in south Wichita, Michael O’Donnell’s district, in compliance, said city planning director John Schlegel, who is leading the redistricting deliberations.
Five of the commission’s seven members were appointed Tuesday, with appointments from Miller and council member Lavonta Williams expected next week, after the council agreed on a seven-member commission. The first commission meeting will be in late July or early August, Schlegel said. New district boundaries must go before the City Council by Sept. 30, with approval due by the end of the year.
The commission’s work will be slowed by new precinct maps, Schlegel said. 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. New precinct maps won’t be available until later this month.
Making the process even more tricky is future council district growth: The commission will be asked to predict growth to keep the district populations in balance, and to factor in anticipated population growth downtown from the city’s revitalization effort.
“Taking into account natural boundaries, the boundaries of neighborhood associations, the magnitude of future growth over the next 10 years and the way the core area central business district should be represented in the council districts,” Schlegel said.
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.