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Charleston redistricting discussion delayed

Charleston officials have decided to hold off on any redistricting of city council wards until the city receives confirmation from the state Legislature that it has the power to eliminate a ward.Council's Committee on Redistricting, which had its second meeting Wednesday night, made the decision to postpone action.Last week, the committee opted to look into getting rid of one of the city's 21 wards to avoid a ward crossing the Kanawha River.However, while state law addresses cities adding wards, it is silent as to whether one may be eliminated."I think the right thing to do ... would be to get a revision in state code," City Manager David Molgaard said at the meeting, going on to say, "Why open yourselves up to a legal challenge if you can avoid it?"Charleston did reduce the size of its council by one ward in 1966, but because that action took place so long ago, officials want clarification from the Legislature.Once the Legislature addresses the issue, the committee will resume the redistricting issue in the spring of 2014, including analyzing the ward boundaries and moving those, if necessary. One thing that remained clear is committee members expressed they want to keep wards as representative of neighborhoods as possible."I want the people in the wards to feel comfortable with who is representing them," said at-large Councilwoman Mary Jean Davis, a Democrat who is on the committee.West Side Democratic Councilman Ed Talkington, who is not on the committee but attended the meeting, said he agreed that keeping neighborhoods together is important.Boundaries must be changed by the next city election in 2015 because of population shifts. Wards must be divided as evenly as possible, and the city is trying to make wards with populations that deviate no more and no less than five percent.
That means using Charleston's 2010 population of 51,400, each of the city's 21 wards should have 2,477 people. A five percent deviation either way means city wards should contain 2,326 to 2,570 people.2010 census figures weren't available in time for the 2011 municipal election, but now that the numbers have been released, the city needs to change its wards for the 2015 election.Charleston has more wards than any other city in West Virginia. Including council's six at-large members, the city has a larger council than many major U.S. cities and senates in some states.The reason for the size is council is neighborhood-based to give each neighborhood a say in city government, Councilman Bobby Reishman, a South Hills Republican who is also on the redistricting committee, said at the committee's last meeting.
However, council members at the meeting indicated expanding the size of council is likely not on the table.Charleston's population peaked at about 85,000 people in the 1960s but has declined in every census since.During the years Charleston was growing -- and then after -- the city continued to add wards. According to city code, there were 17 wards in 1929 and 19 by 1958. The city dropped a ward in 1966 but then added two more in 1982 before arriving at the current 21.There are also six at-large members -- 14 Democrats, 10 Republicans, one Mountain Party and one Independent.The nine-member Committee on Redistricting was formed at an October meeting at Mayor Danny Jones' request.Councilman Brent Burton, a South Hills Republican, is the committee's chairman. Other Republicans on the committee include Bobby Reishman (South Hills), Mike Stajduhar (West Side) and John Miller (Kanawha City).
Democrats include Jack Harrison (South Hills), Sam Minardi (South Hills), Shannon Snodgrass (Oakridge Road area) and Mary Jean Davis and Jerry Ware (both at large).Contact writer Matt Murphy at or 304-348-4817.
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