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Redistricting plan goes before Akron Council

11/1/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Highland Square would be all Ward 1; political maneuvering alleged in Ward 2

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Two sitting Akron City Council members would reside in the same ward if a current plan to redistrict the city’s wards gains approval from Council.

The main objective of the redistricting plan that went before Council Oct. 29 is to better align ward boundaries to neighborhood boundaries and for city neighborhoods — such as Highland Square, Ellet and North Hill — to be represented by one Council member, said Council President Marco Sommerville (D-Ward 3).

However, some Council members at a special meeting and public hearing decried the proposed redrawing of ward boundaries as a politically motivated move to oust Ward 2 Councilman Bruce Kilby. The proposal moves the boundary between Wards 1 and 2 to the west, resulting in current Ward 1 Councilman Jim Hurley’s residence being situated in Ward 2.

Sommerville said the adjustment of the ward boundary serves to reunite the North Hill neighborhood, which currently is divided between Wards 1 and 2. But the plan was questioned by at-large Council members Michael Williams and Linda Omobien.

“I’m questioning the necessity of creating this conflict between Council members,” Williams said, calling it a “veiled attempt to create a scenario where Mr. Kilby is pitted against” another sitting Council member in an election.

“I am extremely suspicious of the motivation behind the redistricting and the political implications here,” he said.

Omobien suggested some alternatives to the proposed plan.

“There has to be a way to move it some … to keep every [sitting council member] in their own wards,” she said.

For his part, Kilby said, “I’m a big boy. I understand this is a political process.”

He noted that, if neighborhood autonomy were truly important, his residence should be in Ward 10, not 2, because he lives in Goodyear Heights.

When asked by Sommerville if he would like to be moved into Ward 10 — served by Councilman Garry Moneypenny — Kilby responded that he would.

“I’ll run in any ward, or I might run for at large,” he said. The true thrust of the issue, he stated, is that the leadership of Council wants him off of Council. “I’m not complaining,” he said. “I expected this.”

Kilby stressed the wards belong to the people, not to any one Council member, and he and his neighbors belong in Goodyear Heights, not the Chapel Hill area.

“It’s never been my intent to run against another councilman,” Hurley said. He added he is probably the least political politician on Council.

“I’m an electrician. I’m a blue collar worker,” he said.

However, he said it’s important to have North Hill all together in one ward and for him to be able to “represent the people that I know and I love, where I live.”

The proposed plan was prepared by consultant Bob Dykes, a senior partner with Triad Research Group. He said this is his third redistricting experience with Akron.

“I think Akron is more a city of neighborhoods than most cities are,” Dykes said. “So we paid attention to the neighborhood boundaries.”

After debating the proposed redistricting, Council members requested that Dykes bring in alternate proposals that could address their concerns.

“No matter where you draw a line, someone will always find a reason you should have drawn it somewhere else,” Dykes acknowledged.

The redistricting would place almost all of Highland Square and West Hill in Ward 1. The current ward configuration splits Highland Square — arguably one of the most well-defined microcosms of the city — among four wards.

During the public hearing, the proposal was cheered by two West Hill residents.

West Hill residents “need to have representation that they can count on,” said resident John Bryson. “I think this is a huge step.”

“I think that the move that you’re doing to unite neighborhoods is in the right direction,” added resident Bruce Danfer.

Other residents who spoke, however, were much more cynical.

“Yeah, this has got nothing to do with neighborhoods,” said former Council member Ernie Tarle, an outspoken critic of Council and city administration. “You know it and I know it.”

Tarle applauded Kilby and called him a “gentleman.”

Another frequent city critic, Patti Longville, complained about the little notice given to the public about the public hearing. With only three days’ notice and no opportunity to review the proposed redistricting before the special meeting, “How can the people let you know what they would like?” she said.

Sommerville responded this is the first redistricting in Akron that has been open to public comment, which Longville pronounced “shameful.”

Council requested time on the legislation enacting redistricting, which would be effective next September, and will bring it for a vote at a future meeting.

The demographics of, and a rough look at the neighborhoods included in the wards in the West Side Leader’s coverage area include:

• Ward 1: Highland Square, downtown and The University of Akron. Population: 19,682, 72 percent white, 21 percent black, 2 percent Hispanic;

• Ward 3: Lane-Wooster and Summit Lake. Population: 19,786, 28 percent white, 65 percent black, 2 percent Hispanic;

• Ward 4: West Akron and Wallhaven. Population: 19,665, 27 percent white, 69 percent black, 2 percent Hispanic; and

• Ward 8: Northwest Akron and Merriman Valley. Population: 19,667, 77 percent white, 19 percent black, 2 percent Hispanic.

The city’s population as of the 2010 census is 199,110, and the average number of residents in each of the city’s 10 wards is 19,911, according to Dykes.

Little legislative action was taken at the regular meeting that followed. Council approved the $29,950 purchase of video transformer cameras for the Akron Police Department and the 2013 Consolidated Action Plan, which allocates federal funds to social service organizations to develop housing for low-income individuals and to serve the homeless population. Akron will receive $6.9 million for next year.

Akron City Council next will meet Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. Committee meetings are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, also in Council Chambers.

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