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Panel approves redistricting of Charleston City Council wards

By Matt Murphy, Local government writer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Provided the full Charleston city council gives the final “OK,” voters in Charleston will select council members next year based on a new 20-ward map, representing a one-ward reduction from the current setup.

Council’s Redistricting Committee unanimously approved the new ward map at a meeting Wednesday night. The measure will likely go before the full council on July 7.

With 19 of council’s 27 members sponsoring the 20-ward bill, passage is likely.

“This is obviously a very logical solution to our present situation,” City Manager David Molgaard said.

Because of population shifts throughout the city based on the 2010 Census, ward boundaries must be redrawn to comply with a state law that requires the populations of each ward to be within so many percentage points of one another.

Using Charleston’s 2010 population of 51,400, a perfect population split among each of the city’s 21 wards would be about 2,447 people. For a 20-ward system, a perfect split would mean each ward would have about 2,570 people.

Figures from the 2010 Census weren’t available in time for the last municipal election in 2011, but now that the numbers have been released, the city needs to change its wards by the next election, as some wards are now out of compliance.

But because of population loss over the years, a proposed 21-ward solution would result in one ward crossing the Kanawha River, consultant Jo Vaughan, who drew the proposed map, said last fall.

The proposed cross-Kanawha ward would have joined part of North Charleston and part of South Hills. Committee members expressed concern over such a ward, saying different neighborhoods have different needs.

“If you look on the southern side of the river you’re not losing population there – you’re losing population on the northern side of the river,” Vaughan said Wednesday. “I know the 21-ward (map) we drew put neighborhoods together that … really didn’t have the same interests.”

A 20-ward solution, on the other hand, would avoid a cross-river ward, and that’s the solution council members ultimately supported.

The dropped ward will most affect boundaries on the West Side, which is where the most population loss has occurred.

On Wednesday, some committee members discussed the possibility of further reducing the number of wards to 19, taking into account the current trend of continued population loss in the city since the last census.

“If it continues to decline and you see a pattern you might want to consider moving forward and taking one out,” said Councilman Jerry Ware, an at-large Democrat.

However, other committee members said they wanted to hold off on going below 20 wards, and Vaughan advised against that option.

“I wouldn’t go below 20,” she said. “You wouldn’t want to make a big decline real quick.”

Committee members have said throughout the redistricting process they wanted to preserve the city’s neighborhood-based ward system. Charleston has many more wards than most major cities in the United States, and the city’s 27-member council is larger than some state senates.

Council has six at-large members, the number of which is set by the city’s charter.

Council members said they value the ability of ward representatives to easily stay in touch with the people they represent.

“I think the important thing is the council person stays reachable,” At-Large Democratic Councilwoman Mary Jean Davis said.

Discussion for redistricting started last October, when Mayor Danny Jones named nine council members to the redistricting committee. The committee met twice before deciding to postpone discussion.

The postponement came after members realized that though state law addressed the power of cities to add wards, it was silent on whether or not cities could reduce the number of wards.

Charleston did reduce the size of its council by one ward in 1966, but because that action took place so long ago, officials wanted clarification from the Legislature.

When the Legislature was in session, senators and delegates, some representing districts that included Charleston, offered bills that added language to state law formally allowing the reduction of wards. Delegates Jim Morgan, D-Cabell, and Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, sponsored H.B. 4485, while Sens. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha; Robert Beach, D-Monongalia; and David Nohe, R-Wood; sponsored S.B. 547.

Of the two, the senate version ended up passing the full Legislature and was signed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin with an effective date of June 8.

The redistricting committee is comprised of Republicans Brent Burton (South Hills); Bobby Reishman (South Hills), Joe Deneault (West Side) and John Miller (Kanawha City); and Democrats Jack Harrison (South Hills), Sam Minardi (South Hills), Shannon Snodgrass (Oakridge Road area); Davis and Ware (both at large).

West Side Republican Mike Stajduhar was originally on the committee, but he resigned in December. Jones appointed Deneault to replace him on the committee earlier this year.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at 304-348-4817 or matt.murphy@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/dmlocalgov.


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