Sunday, December 21, 2014

Council should include the public in redistricting (since it already promised to twice)

An IOM editorial in the Daily News:

Council should include the public in redistricting (since it already promised to twice)

City population shifts will likely make for tougher redistricting problems this year than those that council faced in 2000. The 5th and 7th districts will face unavoidable pressure. (Staff graphic)
City population shifts will likely make for tougher redistricting problems this year than those that council faced in 2000. The 5th and 7th districts will face unavoidable pressure. (Staff graphic)

An IOM editorial in the Daily News:

We've often wondered what City Council's "resolutions" - official statements of position that aren't actually laws - are good for. We have our answer: Not much.

On June 23, Council passed a resolution promising to "hold public community based hearings to educate and inform citizens on the redistricting process . . . in order to create an open and transparent opportunity for public engagement."

Today is July 26. The deadline for Council to finish redistricting is Sept. 9. And word out of Council is that no public meetings are scheduled, and none may be.

The process of redrawing the boundaries of the 10 Council districts happens once a decade, by mandate of the city charter, to make sure each district's Council member represents roughly the same number of people.

A good redistricting process would build districts that are compact, and don't unnecessarily split geographic or demographic communities. A bad process ignores those principles and builds districts to maximize incumbents' chances of re-election. Historically, Philly's had a bad process. The 7th district resembles a rodent with a long, windy tail, and has been called the most "gerrymandered" - a term describing a district designed to gain political advantage - in the nation.

A 2010 white paper by the software and mapping firm Azavea recommends "exposing the redistricting process to public scrutiny" as one partial remedy to gerrymandering. (Watch this space for Azavea's efforts to create a public redistricting project.)

It's doubly frustrating to have to rake Council over the coals for failing to abide its own resolution, since June 23 was too late to begin a real process of education and engagement, anyway.

For many members, the resolution wasn't the first promise about bringing the public into the redistricting process. In 2007, the Committee of Seventy asked candidates to endorse an "ethics agenda" that included a "non-partisan and independent citizen's commission to allow for an open and public (redistricting) process." Nine current Council members and Mayor Nutter endorsed the item. Frank DiCicco said: "I agree and will lead the charge!"

Guess he forgot.

To make this right, Council should include the public in the redistricting process by scheduling community meetings around the city as soon as possible. And Council members should prepare to have their paychecks put on hold - the penalty for blowing the September deadline - until a real public process happens. In 2001, they went four months without pay before agreeing on a plan.

The public should second that motion by calling their Council members and telling them they don't deserve to get paid until they get this job done right.

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