Redistricting: Council Cards Close to Chest
Debate over Hyattsville's redistricting continues, but City Council is running out of time to approve plan, says attorney.
If you were looking during Monday's City Council meeting to see how the august body might be leaning as it considers the decennial redistricting, which would redraw the city's political boundaries, you could be left grasping for straws.
Hyattsville's City Council members, at least during this past city council meeting, revealed little in the way of a preference for any of the six schemes.
This caught the attention of Ward 3 Councilor Tim Hunt.
"Nobody's gone out on a limb and said, this is what I think," said Hunt. "Just wanted to start that ball rolling. I don't know how we're going to end up doing this tonight, but I don't want any surprises."
Mayor Marc Tartaro said that the discussion was better suited to let Redistricting Committee Chairman David Rain present the recently revised redistricting options for the council to mull.
"This will come back to council for discussion," said Tartaro. "Tonight is Dr. Rain's night to present…hopefully we'll be able to get more residents out and see what they think."
David Rain, explaining the redistricting revisions, they were based on about 20 pages of comments received from the public after the March 5 unveiling of the Redistricting Committee's initial plans.
"It's been a fun project, I've learned a lot about the city," said Rain. "Hopefully it carries through to help you make some good decisions."
Rain reiterated stated goals of the Redistricting Committee, which are to create contiguous, compact wards of as-equal populations as possible and by protecting a Hispanic community of interest in West Hyattsville by creating a “minority opportunity ward” with at least a 50 percent Hispanic population
As a result, Rain's committee recommended the removal of four redistricting schemes which required a dramatic reshuffling of incumbent council members or did not include Hispanic minority-opportunity wards.
Thus two new schemes were introduced which boost the Hispanic populations in Ward 4.
- Scenario 2b makes adjustments to Ward 4 which brings that ward's Hispanic population to 50 percent, meeting the minority-opportunity ward requirements while unseating no incumbents.
- Scenario 5, also new, creates a Ward 4 with a 52.2 percent Hispanic population, while displacing incumbent Councilor Matt McKnight from Ward 3 to Ward 2, placing him in the same ward as council members Shani Warner and David Hiles.
Rain highlighted Redistricting Plan 2b which he said "squared the circle" with its minority-opportunity ward and lack of council shuffling.
Hunt, in urging the City Council to express their preference, also highlighted Redistricting Plan 2b as a potential favorite.
Hyattsville grew by 19 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the census. The city added about 3,500 residents to its population, growing from roughly 14,000 residents to roughly 17,500 residents.
In that time, Hyattsville's Hispanic population increased from 2,670 residents to 5,970, most of that growth in West Hyattsville in Ward 4 and Ward 3.
Ward 4 City Councilor Caros Lizanne noted that the Census population data was approaching three years old. He said that many Hispanic people in his wards have actually moved out since then, and wondered if the ward changes reflected any recent population changes.
Rain explained that, by law, the redistricting is tied to the last census numbers, but that his committee did try to take into account population trends as long as they kept each ward's relatively equal to satisfy voting act requirements.
Noting a "sentiment" in the 20-plus pages of public comment received in response to the redistricting plans, the committee then returned with a four ward proposal and a six ward proposal. Rain said the Redistricting Committee dabbled with a seven ward proposal, but discarded it because they could not produce a 50 percent Hispanic minority-opportunity ward.
Heeding a call for options which would change the number of wards in the city, the Redistricting Committee also returned with two proposals which change the number of wards in the city.
The two alternate ward redistricting options were:
- Scenario 6: Creates a six ward configuration with a 53.8 percent Hispanic Ward 4. The new Ward 6 would span Queens Chapel Road in present day Ward 4. This plan displaces Councilor McKnight from Ward 3 to Ward 6 and Councilor Eric Wingard from Ward 1 to Ward 2. Each ward would have a target population of about 2,926.
- Scenario 7: Lays out a four ward proposal, with a 52.1 percent Hispanic Ward 4. This proposal displaces Councilor Nicole Hinds Mofor and Councilor Ruth Ann Frazier from Ward 5 to Ward 2. Councilor Hiles would be redistricted from Ward 2 to Ward 1, and Councilor McKnight would be redistricted from Ward 3 to Ward 1.
Requests have been made for the written public responses to the plans, which have not yet been released. Outgoing City Clerk Doug Barber is out of the office until Thursday. Hyattsville's Director of Communications and also Acting Recreation and Arts Department Director Abby Sandel politely requested that media requests for the documents be held off until then. This journalist obliged.
City Attorney Richard Colaresi reminded the City Council that their self imposed deadline, however flexible, was fast approaching.
"As to your timetable, I think the redistricting committee feels that they have done their job, I want to point that out to you that your deadline, as set by you is April 15," said Colaresi. "I'm sure you have a little more time than that, as it was your assignment, however I just wanted to remind you."
Colaresi informed the council that the Hyattsville Board of Elections is urging them to approve a new redistricting plan by April 30 in order to be prepared for upcoming November general election.