BY SUSIE CURRIE — On May 2, the Hyattsville City Council approved a redistricting plan that keeps most residents, including all incumbent councilmembers, in their wards.
Of the 10 options presented by redistricting committee chair David Rain during two previous meetings, plan 2b seemed to meet most of the objectives. Boundary lines are somewhat smoother, wards are slightly more compact and contiguous, and, with a population that is exactly 50 percent Hispanic, Ward 4 becomes a minority-opportunity ward as defined by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Redistricting is federally mandated after each census. Findings from the 2010 one show an increase of nearly 20 percent in the city’s population. Much of that was due to annexation and new residential construction.
As expected, Ward 3 saw the biggest change. After the annexation of University Hills, it was left with an imbalance of 1,000 residents. This was addressed, in part, by shifting the boundary lines west to encompass part of the current Ward 4. In the shift, the southeastern corner of the current Ward 3 becomes the northwestern corner of the new Ward 1.
The council took only 45 minutes to choose the plan, which was the only item on the May 2 agenda. Mayor Marc Tartaro was absent, having already informed members that he did not intend to vote on redistricting.
“I’m staying out of it,” he said in an interview the next day. “It’s up to the council.”
Council President Matt McKnight, who chaired the meeting, invited councilmembers to share which plan or plans they favored. The winner made everyone’s short list, and was the top choice of councilmembers Ruth Ann Frazier (Ward 5), David Hiles (Ward 2), Paula Perry (Ward 4) and Tim Hunt (Ward 3).
Plan 7 was the favorite of McKnight, Shani Warner (Ward 2) and Ward 1 representatives Candace Hollingsworth and Eric Wingard. That would have put as many as four incumbents in one ward and changed the number of wards from five to four.
The idea of reducing the number of wards is not a new one; the 10-member body is the second largest in the state. After everyone had spoken, McKnight said that the question boiled down to: “Are we interested in having a smaller council or not?”
Some members who supported the idea said they realized this may not be the time to implement it.
“I recognize why this is a hard time to reduce the number of wards, with [city clerk] Doug Barber gone and the number of staff vacancies we have,” said Warner.
She also lamented the absences of councilmembers Carlos Lizanne (Ward 4) and Nicole Hinds (Ward 5). Both have health problems, and Hinds had been hospitalized for at least the last three meetings.
“I wish we could hear what Lizanne and Hinds-Mofor have to say,” she said before the vote.
Hiles answered, “I think history is made by those who show up.”
The motion approving the boundaries in plan 2b passed 7-1, with Hollingsworth voting against it.