COLUMBIA, 9/13/11 (Beat Byte) -- In a surprising development at a public hearing before Columbia's Ward Reapportionment Committee (WRC) last week, a plan unveiled late last month by an informal group of 25 citizens from four Wards took a strong second place as the most favored Ward reapportionment plan.
The number one favorite -- Plan E -- extends the First Ward to the west, stopping just short of giving the Ward an open boundary.
By going any farther, it would include current 2nd Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill's residence, moving him into the First Ward. Nicknamed by city development staffers, Plan J or the Citizens' Plan is mostly an extension of Plan E which gives the First Ward a first time open boundary, but encompasses Thornhill's home.
"I believe that Plan J is the most viable option, and best serves the needs of the First Ward and the downtown neighborhood associations who have worked with us throughout this process," said North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association president Pat Fowler.
Roughly 45 people attended the hearing, which devoted nearly an hour to public testimony. WRC members have just two days left to turn in their recommendations to the Columbia City Council, where Plan E is expected to pass.
Presidents and representatives of numerous neighborhood associations offered the most powerful statement yet about the need for a plan that will not compromise political, ideological, economic, and minority voter interests. With one exception -- former Mayoral candidate John Clark -- every speaker roundly condemned reapportionment plans such as A and D that might "gerrymander" progressive, actively-voting neighborhoods by consolidating them into the First Ward.
Speakers also weren't shy about criticizing some WRC decisions, such as the plan to avoid encroaching on Council member residences. Not part of the Committee's legal mandate, the idea originated with Committee members themselves, WRC chairman Bob Pugh explained.
"I believe the efforts you are making not to disrupt any current council members' seat is misplaced," she said, noting that past reapportionments have forced politicians who wish to remain in office to relocate, including Southern District Boone County Commissioner Karen Miller. "I don’t see a compelling reason why you are attempting to provide an accommodation to our sitting council representatives not called for in current city ordinance. Your energy in this matter does not serve the best interests of our citizens."
Fowler and other speakers called it wrong-headed.
Minority Mens Network president Steve Calloway -- whose organization originally favored Plan B, which would extend the First Ward north -- said that vote had changed. "We now favor Plan E," he explained. Also speaking for minority voters, NAACP president Mary Ratliff said her organization still favored Plan B. Plan E, she argued, would disrupt an existing neighborhood association.
In the path of Plan B, Northland-Parker Neighborhood Association president Annette Kolling-Buckley said her organization firmly opposes it.
The evening's contrarian, John Clark was alone in urging the WRC to approve Plans D and F, arguing that the city's present strategy -- of relying on Council members outside the central city to vote in the interests of the central city -- was a "wedge" arrangement 40 years of history had proven a failure.