BY SUSIE CURRIE — Federally mandated redistricting could displace up to six city council incumbents, according to plans unveiled at the March 5 council meeting.
The 2010 census showed that Hyattsville’s population grew from 14,733 on April 1, 2000, to 17,557 a decade later, an increase of almost 20 percent. Much of that was in Ward 3, where annexation led to an imbalance of 1,000 residents.
Making sure they get evenly distributed was just one consideration for the three-member redistricting committee.
Committee chair David Rain presented six plans to the council. He described the existing boundary lines, drawn based on 2000 census data, as “jagged and irregular.”
One reason for that, he said, “had to do with moving the lines around [to keep] incumbents in their wards. We did pay attention to that, but we didn’t focus on it exclusively.”
They also focused on drawing “compact, contiguous” boundaries and, in keeping with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, creating a minority-opportunity ward, with a minority population of at least 50 percent.
But that proved harder than expected, because “there aren’t a lot of pockets of concentrations,” explained Rain. “It’s a virtue [for the city], but makes our job a little harder.”
Still, two of the six plans do create such a ward, with Hispanics making up just over half the population in Ward 5. Another pair of plans would keep all incumbents in their wards, while meeting few other criteria.
The scenario that divides the population most evenly has a difference of only 75 people between the largest and smallest wards. But it’s one of two plans that would redistrict six council members out of the wards that elected them.
Candace Hollingsworth (Ward 1) pointed out that in most scenarios, the councilmembers who would be displaced are up for re-election in 2013, “so they’d be running anyway.”
But putting three incumbents in one ward, as some plans do, would lead to a game of musical chairs in which the rules have yet to be written.
“When do the boundaries take effect?”said Mayor Marc Tartaro later, giving examples of questions that would surface. “How do you figure out who’s running against each other? These are all things we would have to decide.”
City Attorney Richard Colaresi agreed. “That is really a council problem to solve,” he said.
“We did not have a mandate to fix city council dysfunction or solve a lot of other problems,” Rain said. “We were given pretty clear marching orders. We were told that the council thought the best plan was to stick with five wards, so that’s what we did.”
The 10-member body, composed of two representatives for each of five wards, is the second largest in the state. During the presentation, at least one councilmember was open to changing the structure, although she acknowledged that it would likely stay the same.
“I regret that we didn’t give you a little more free rein,” in designing the plans, Shani Warner (Ward 2) told Rain. She cited “the historic problem we have getting people to run for election, the low turnout we have in some wards … [and] the issues with comity and civility that we’ve had recently on the council” as reasons to re-examine the structure.
Colaresi explained that there were two ways to restructure: “Create more wards and keep one person for the seat, or lesson the number of wards and keep two people in staggered elections.”
But, he added, “the fewer wards you have, the less likely there is any minority-opportunity ward.”
All plans can be found on the city website, and the public is encouraged to give feedback on them until March 19. To comment, send an e-mail with the subject line “Redistricting 2012” to City Clerk Douglass Barber at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The committee will meet again the week of March 26 to incorporate the responses into a second round of plans. Those, said Rain, should be presented to council next month.