Time to redraw Minneapolis

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February 27, 2012
By: Drew Kerr
Drew Kerr
Community leaders working to engage citizens in redistricting process

The once-in-a-decade effort to redraw the city’s ward and park board boundaries is now underway, a process that will serve as an important first test of the Charter Commission’s ability to strip politics from the initiative.  

The redistricting process, which follows each new U.S. Census, is intended to create equitable wards and park districts that reflect the city’s most recent population figures.

According to the new Census, each of the city’s 13 wards should have between 27,958 and 30,900 people, while each of the city’s six park board districts should have between 60,575 and 66,951 people.

With their current boundaries, wards two and seven, which include growing downtown neighborhoods, have too many residents, while wards four, five and six, have too few people.

Until this year, a group of party leaders and city officials had decided how to change ward and park board boundaries to accommodate such population shifts.  

But a 2010 charter amendment reassigned the task to the city’s Charter Commission amid concerns over transparency and partisanship. An advisory group appointed by the Charter Commission is also assisting in the process.

Though he acknowledged there is likely to be pressure from political groups, Barry Clegg, who chairs the Charter Commission and is leading the redistricting effort, said the group is making genuine efforts to remove political considerations from the process.

“There will be people who will be unhappy and there will be people are thrilled,” he said. “But it can’t be about the council member — it has to be about what’s required in the charter and what’s fair to the most people.”

Clegg’s group has already begun to consider draft proposals, but residents are being encouraged to get involved in the process so that community interests can be better reflected in the revised maps.     

Residents can submit comments, speak at public hearings or create a map of their own through a website created by the non-partisan government watchdog group Common Cause Minnesota. The mapping tool is available at drawminneapolis.org.

Mike Dean, the executive director at Common Cause Minnesota, said the map-drawing effort is based on the belief that residents know their communities best, and should have a say in how they are represented at City Hall.

“What we see is when citizens draw these maps, they tend to be much better than the ones that come out of the government,” he said.

One goal, Dean said, is to unite groups with shared ambitions so that they have a better chance to elect members that reflect those interests.

“We want to create homogeneous districts so that we can have a heterogeneous council and a majority doesn’t dominate,” Dean said.

One group that has already submitted a proposal with that idea in mind is the Citizens Committee for Fair Redistricting, a coalition of groups who represent the Somali and East African communities in South Minneapolis.

The sitting City Council has just one minority member, despite having a 40 percent minority population and, in a letter to the redistricting group, the committee said that “minority populations have been divided at the expense of the majority populations.”

“If there was proportional representation on the Minneapolis City Council, five of the thirteen wards would be represented by people from the minority population,” the letter said. “We think this lack of representation in elected offices in Minneapolis City Hall is grossly unfair.”

To help, the group suggested reshaping two downtown wards and creating a “minority opportunity ward” in the Seward, Elliot Park, Cedar-Riverside and Phillips neighborhoods, which are now divided into three separate wards. A “minority opportunity ward” includes at least 30 percent of a particular minority group.

The ward suggested by the Citizens Committee for Fair Redistricting would have 40 percent African Americans, 33 percent white, 20 percent Hispanics and 7 percent Native Americans, according to group leaders.

City Council Member Cam Gordon, whose ward includes the Cedar-Riverside and Seward neighborhoods, said he expects some changes, but that he has grown fond of the communities he represents and that he believes he can represent all who live in his area.

“I don’t think the quality of your service is determined by how similar or different you are to the people you represent,” he said. “My goal is to make sure everyone feels like their voice is heard at City Hall.”

Clegg, the Charter Commission chair, said he is hoping the group can do a better job of uniting common groups, however.

“We want to do what’s fair and equitable and that’s going to include moving some lines,” he said.

Another area that will also likely see changes is North Minneapolis. The Jordan and Hawthorne neighborhoods each lost more than 1,700 residents between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, while the North Loop grew more than any other neighborhood.

David Frank, the president of the North Loop Neighborhood Association, declined to comment on the potential changes because, he said, the issue is “too controversial.”

The Charter Commission is expected to put draft maps up for consideration at the end of this month and to finalize new ward and park board maps no later than April 3.

Public hearings on draft maps will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 29 at the Webber Community Center, 4400 Dupont Ave. N., and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 1 at the Hosmer Library, 347 E. 36th St.

Two additional public hearings will be held after the final maps have been created. Those meetings have not been scheduled, and will be held in neighborhoods expected to see the most dramatic changes.

Contributing writer Drew Kerr can be reached at drewbkerr@gmail.com.