AFTER BEING criticized for ignoring the public, City Council yesterday announced a hearing to get residents' ideas on how it should redraw its district boundaries.
"We're interested in hearing everybody's ideas and getting their input," said Council President Anna Verna, after a Council committee met on redistricting.
The hearing will begin at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 16 in Council chambers.
The government watchdog group Committee of Seventy said one hearing falls short of a promise to have wide public engagement.
"It's tantamount to saying to the public, we really don't care what you think," said Seventy's vice president, Ellen Kaplan. "It's [more than] five months into a six-month process."
Under the city charter, the 10 Council districts must be redrawn every 10 years. Using census data, Council must ensure that each district has about 10 percent of the population - 152,600 people by the latest count.
The deadline for drawing the boundaries is Sept. 9. If Council members fail to do so by then, they will go without paychecks until they're done. That's what happened in 1991 and 2001.
The members leading the redistricting effort - Verna, Marian Tasco, Darrell Clarke, Brian O'Neill and Maria Quinones-Sanchez - said this year would be less contentious than in those years.
"I think we'll get it done on time," said Clarke, whose centrally located 5th District will feel substantial pressure during this process. But he added: "I am saving money."
Members reviewed some scenarios at yesterday's meeting, but said it was too soon talk about specific maps. Still, the challenges ahead are clear.
Most of the city's growth has been in the east, with three districts seeing huge population gains. Four districts in West and northwest Philadelphia saw substantial population losses. Those districts will likely have to expand east, which will put pressure on the two districts in the middle - Clarke's 5th and Quinones-Sanchez's 7th District.
But there may be some wiggle room. On Monday, Council got a legal opinion from City Solicitor Shelley Smith saying that districts that deviate from the population goal by as much as 10 percent could be permissible. Smith wrote that for a plan with deviation of up to 10 percent, the burden of proof would be on critics to show that districts were unfairly drawn.
Smith stressed that law on the issue was "unsettled" and open to debate. The current district boundaries have a total population deviation of 4.28 percent.
Quinones-Sanchez said Council may need a higher district deviation this year.
"Because you have some districts with such huge losses, in some cases we may find ourselves close to that [10 percent figure]," she said.
The local mapping-software firm Azavea will hold a public meeting on redistricting at 7 p.m. Monday at WHYY studios on Independence Mall.