POSTED ON APRIL 27, 2011:
Win, Lose and Draw
Tulsans have one last chance to weigh in on new City Council boundaries
Having held the last of five public forums earlier this week, the members of the city's Election District Commission will meet Friday, April 29 to begin discussing that citizen feedback with an eye toward presenting their preferred plan for redrawing Tulsa's nine City Council boundaries on May 13.
Commission chairman Daryl Woodard, who heads the three-member commission, said Tulsans will have another chance to weigh in on the process at a public hearing that is tentatively scheduled for May 27. A final decision on the boundaries is due to be made in June.
Woodard said the process has been an orderly one so far.
"There hasn't been just a huge amount of people, but there have been a handful of people at each meeting," he said.
The concerns expressed at those five meetings -- which began April 11 before concluding earlier this week -- have not reflected much commonality, he said.
"Everybody has their own interests, and we're trying to take them into account the best we can," he said. "Of course, everybody has different plans they like. Ultimately, not everybody is going to get the plan they like. They can't."
Woodard and his fellow commissioners -- he is joined by Jack Boyte and Molly McKay -- are charged with taking Tulsa's population shifts over the last 10 years into account and carving out new districts that are as equal as possible in the number of residents they include. According to the city charter and state law, those districts also are expected to be as contiguous and compact as possible, while they also are expected to conform with precinct boundary lines. Additionally, the districts are expected to meet federal Voting Rights Act requirements.
Secondary criteria the commission is expected to employ include drawing district boundaries along major physical features such as rivers, expressways or arterial streets, as well as minimizing the displacement or reassignment of voters and precincts between council districts.
Taking all those factors -- as well as citizen input -- into account is not easy, Woodard acknowledged, though he lauded the work the Indian Nations Council of Government has done in creating five draft plans that were presented to residents at those public hearings.
"It has been great to work with INCOG," he said. "They've got some pretty sophisticated software where you're able to move the boundaries around and see the numbers change. But it's a challenge. I didn't realize how varied in population some of these precincts are. You can have this perfectly blocked-up map, but because of the difference in precincts, you can't do it, you just can't do it. You can only do so much because of the size of the precincts."
According to a document prepared by INCOG, the population of the city's nine council districts currently ranges from 39,828 in District 1, which lies primarily in the city's northeast sector, to 48,503 in District 6, which is on the far east side. The ideal district size, according to that document, is 43,545.
The document provides some interesting snapshots of each district's existing cultural makeup or lack thereof. District 8 in far south Tulsa is by far the least culturally diverse, where nearly 84 percent of the people are white and no single minority group comprises more than 4.5 percent of the population.
District 1 has the largest black population at nearly 59 percent, while District 6 has the largest Hispanic population at nearly 28 percent. Districts 3 and 5 are close behind with approximately 26 percent and 24 percent, respectively, of their populations identified as Hispanic.
District 3 has the largest American Indian population with nearly 8 percent, while District 6 has the largest Asian population with more than 4 percent.
Of course, all those figures are likely to change as the redistricting process moves forward. Two precincts that appear to be among those most at play are 205 and 147, two contiguous areas that are located just west of downtown Tulsa and north of the Arkansas River. Currently, both precincts are part of District 1, but they face a variety of scenarios under the five draft plans.
Under the first plan, they would remain in District 1. Under plans II, III and V, 205 would remain in District 1, while 147 would move to District 4. Under Plan IV, both would become part of District 2.
Also under a great deal of uncertainty about their future representation are residents of Precinct 121, which is located between East 51st Street and East 61st Street just west of South Yale Avenue. Currently, the Precinct lies in District 7, where it would remain under Plan II. Plans I and III call for it to be moved to District 9, while under plans IV and V, it would become part of District 8.
Under Plan I, 30 precincts would move from one district to another, along with nearly 35,000 people. Under Plan II, which appears to require the least change from the current boundaries, 12 precincts and nearly 22,000 people would change districts. In Plan III, 36 precincts and more than 65,000 people would change precincts, while Plan IV -- apparently the biggest change from the current map -- would lead to the change of 58 precincts and almost 111,000 people. Plan V would require the change of 29 precincts and nearly 59,000 people.
Woodard said a 30-day legal challenge period will follow approval of the final plan. The entire process must be completed in time for the filing period for City Council offices in July.
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