November 6, 2012

Wichita residents object to council district changes

The Wichita City Council approved some tweaks Tuesday to a citizen-drawn map redrawing the city’s six council districts.

The Wichita City Council approved some tweaks Tuesday to a citizen-drawn map redrawing the city’s six council districts.

But not until hearing from several residents alarmed by the ideas floated last week to eliminate a council district and create a full-time, at-large elected vice mayor.

The new map comes in the wake of a Friday meeting between council members Lavonta Williams, Pete Meitzner and James Clendenin to soften the population shifts in those three districts. Council members saw the new map Tuesday morning, which includes the shift of four voting precincts in Districts 1, 2, 3 and 4, but copies were not provided to the media or the public.

A formal ordinance approving the map will be drawn up and brought back to the council later for approval.

Some of the ideas council members floated last week from the bench clearly alarmed several residents, which was confirmed by Mayor Carl Brewer when he alluded to several e-mails he received in the wake of two Eagle stories outlining the possible changes.

“I’m very concerned the council is considering the possibility of reducing and eliminating districts,” said Patricia Fields, who heads the Northeast Millair neighborhood association.

“Or reducing the size of District 1 (Williams’ northeast Wichita district). This option isn’t beneficial to our district.”

Carietta Grizzell, pastor of Wichita’s Grant Chapel AME Church, called the changes “diabolical.”

“We want to see District 1 kept as it is,” she said. “We represent 21,000 African-Americans and other minorities, and we can pack this house. We will not stand for it, and we will not sit by.”

Vice Mayor Janet Miller reminded the visitors that the council district changes are mandated every 10 years by law.

The statutes require that approximately one-sixth of the city’s total population — or 63,728 people, based on the 2010 Census — be allocated within each district, with no district deviating more than 5 percent from that number.

“You can’t redistrict and not change districts,” Miller said. “Things have to change because our population changes.”

Brewer, who voiced opposition from the bench and later last week to the ideas to change the council’s composition, praised the map and reminded council members that their first responsibility is to the city before considering their districts.

“We have a responsibility to all citizens of the city, and secondly an obligation to our districts,” Brewer said. “If the city prospers and grows, so does the districts.”

There was no mention Tuesday of proposals to slash the city’s six districts to five and add the full-time vice mayor position, or of a proposal to establish a full-time council. Council members have indicated privately that support for quick action on both ideas is fading.

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