Ward woes are a worry for Warren

WARREN – Nearly 23 years since the last time the city reviewed the sizes of its wards, Councilman John Brown Jr., D-3rd Ward, is pushing for officials to pursue a redistricting plan, saying the city’s declining population has made some wards significantly smaller than others.

Redistricting is, by law, supposed to happen within a year after the national census is completed every 10 years. Warren’s last approved redistricting plan was adopted in 1991.

Since the 1990 census, the city’s population has declined from 50,793 to 41,557 in the 2010 census. Since the 2010 census, Brown estimates the population has declined to just more than 40,000 residents.

Based on the city’s population of 41,557 in the 2010 census, the populations of each of the seven wards should be about 5,937 residents.

However, population figures range from 6,602 residents in Brown’s 3rd Ward to 4,845 in the city’s 6th Ward, which is represented by Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold.

“Federal regulations require ward population figures should be within 10 percent of one another,” Brown said. “I do not believe the redistrict was not done for any calculated or malicious reasons. It just was not done.”

Brown first requested the city create a redistricting plan last year.

Nothing was done. If the council does not do the redistricting, city laws say it may be done by the safety service director.

A discussion about redistricting is expected to begin during a 5 p.m. Wednesday Strategic Planning Committee meeting in the administration building.

“My goal is not to change the number of city wards,” Brown emphasized. “I only want the city to comply with federal, state, and local laws.”

Brown said he would like as much public input in the process of redrawing the boundaries as possible.

“We want residents and community groups to be involved,” he said.

Averaging the populations of the seven city wards would cause the boundaries of some wards, like Brown’s, to decline, while Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold’s 6th Ward would grow larger in order to achieve the average population balance.

Redistricting may be done by redrawing the city ward maps either by census tracts or by precincts.

Tom Finnerty, associate director for the Center of Urban and Regional Studies at Youngstown State University, said both Youngstown and Warren have been losing populations over the last several decades.

“By the cities not following the law and redistricting every 10 years they are, in essence, violating the voting rights act,” he said. “When wards are out of sync the idea of one man, one vote is diminished.”

Finnerty, involved with designing ward maps for Youngstown redistricting plan last summer, said the city ran into trouble because some council members contested how the ward borders would have been redrawn.

Youngstown had not done a redistricting plan for more than 30 years.

Finnerty said efforts to do redistricting maps, in general, run into problems when people are trying to protect their turfs.

“In some communities there are populations that are not interested in redrawing their ward lines because they were protecting their power,” Finnerty said.

Although communities are required by both state and federal laws to review their populations every 10 years after the census there is nothing to force them unless a suit is filed in state or federal courts stating that because of the inbalanced populations damage is taking place.

Mayor Doug Franklin said he does not know why the city has not done the redistricting in more than 20 years.

“I was on the committee that did the redistricting plan in 1991,” Franklin said. “We did it in-house, so it did not cost the city anything. I do not know if they will be able to do the same this year.”

In Youngstown, the council battled over redistricting efforts during the summer of 2013. Some members of council did not like the proposed ward boundary lines provided by the YSU team and wanted them redone by a different agency.

In Youngstown, some of the wards have population differences that are as much as 5,000 residents. Youngstown Councilman Mike Ray said no substantive action on redistricting has taken place since last fall, but expects the council to take up the issue again within the next six months.

One of the issues that was contentious in Youngstown was the fact that a private prison was located in the city’s 2nd Ward, accounting for approximately a quarter of its population. Prisoners are not allowed to vote, affecting the voting base of the ward in which prisoners are located.

Leah Sakala, a policy analyst with Prison Policy Initiative, said the policy of counting inmate prison is gerrymandering.

“The community pads its population with prisoners who are not residents and who cannot vote on issues,” Sakala said. “It gives people living in these communities greater influence because it takes fewer people to affect change.”

Sakala said four states and more than 200 local communities have taken the position of not counting inmates in their prisons in determining their population figures for redistricting.

Recognizing the trend of local communities not wanting to count prisoners in their population numbers, the census bureau in 2010 printed a second set of statistics that removed the prison population from their tabulations, so local communities could make what adjustments that are necessary.

Trumbull Correctional Institute, located in Warren’s 7th Ward, pushes its population up by an estimated 1,351 people. The 7th Ward has 6,545 residents, making it the city’s second-largest ward by population.

Without the non-voting prisoners, the ward’s population drops to just more than 5,000 residents, making it the second-smallest ward by population size.

Councilman Eddie Colbert, D-7th Ward, said he will wait until he learns more of the redistricting proposals before making any judgments on how it will affect his ward.

“We have no choice but to do something,” Colbert said.

Saffold said she will wait until she sees a proposed plan, before taking a position on what she would like to see done.

Niles successfully completed its redistricting plan in 2011.

Councilman Ed Stredney, D-3rd Ward, said their redistricting process went relatively easy due to an agreement among the council members that allowed the ward councilmen to discuss it among themselves and take a plan back to the entire council.

“The second ward was the largest, so it had to give some of its population to the third ward and the third ward gave some of its population to the fourth ward,” Stredney said. “We tried to make the ward lines as easy as possible to follow.”