Redistricting process slowed by differences

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Voters in Youngstown approved a charter amendment in November to force Youngstown council members to redistrict the city’s seven wards, but getting there will not be an easy process.

Boundary lines for Youngstown’s wards haven’t changed in more than 30 years despite major population declines and shifts. With 66,979 people living in Youngstown at the time of the 2010 census, the even population for the district’s seven wards would be 9,568.

On Tuesday, Youngstown City Council members met once again to discuss what the new wards might look like and whether to count prisoners as residents, which proved to be a contentious issue.

There’s no Ohio law that says a city needs to count inmates as part of the population. But since census data does count them, 1st Ward Councilwoman Annie Gillam said inmates should be included in the final population count.

“If prisoners have an issue, they can write letters and we do represent them,  so why wouldn’t you count them?,” Gillam said at Tuesday’s meeting.

But 4th Ward Councilman Mike Ray doesn’t agree, saying counting prisoners can skew population numbers.

“I represent the 4th ward. We have over 12,000 residents. There’s other wards with 7,000 residents. Those people get more of a voice than my 12,000 residents that I represent.  I think we need to be as fair as we can, especially when we’re redistricting,” Ray said.

Despite the debate, City Council tabled any decisions on prisoners for another day. Tuesday’s meeting was the third one since June after a charter amendment was passed nearly a year ago.

Council’s next issue was who should draw up new district lines. The city already spent $8,000 to have Youngstown State University’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies make recommendations for redistricting. But in a 5-1 vote, committee members will recommend council look for another agency to give them different options.

“We find the dollars and spend a little bit more money so that we can all be agreeable to this process,” Gillam said.

Ray voted against bringing in another agency, saying he doesn’t think there will be much difference in the maps. But he said Council still has time to get the redistricting right.

“If we want to slow things down, it has been like this for a while, to make people feel more comfortable, by all means let’s go through that process,” Ray said.

At this time, council must redistrict the city into seven equal wards. Any talk of eliminating wards would have to come from a new charter amendment and ballot initiative.

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