According to projections from the U.S. Census Bureau, Charleston’s population will continue to decline through 2020, said Jo Vaughn, the redistricting consultant charged with assisting the city in changing its wards.
“Unfortunately the city of Charleston has lost a lot of population and continues to lose population,” Vaughn told members of the city’s redistricting committee Wednesday evening.
The nine-member committee reconvened to address changes in Charleston’s wards after a five-month hiatus while waiting to hear from the legislature as to whether municipalities can decrease their number of wards.
Previous language in the state code only addressed a city’s ability to increase wards.
The committee decided Wednesday to withdraw a 21-ward ordinance that would stretch one ward across the Kanawha River, combining neighborhoods in North Charleston and Fort Hill, in favor of a 20-ward solution.
Committee members voiced concern that the voters in those wards wouldn’t be adequately represented if combined.
Council majority leader Jack Harrison said he’s been involved in Charleston’s redistricting in the past and said the city has kept politics out of the equation.
“What we’ve done here is, we’ve looked at the numbers and we stayed within the numbers and sometimes when we went down it caused some council members to run against [one another], and I think they understood that,” Harrison said.
Vaughn said she only looked at population numbers when drawing new ward lines and has little-to-no knowledge of the council members.
“It’s numbers and legal with me,” Vaughn said.
While there were questions about decreasing Charleston’s wards even further — there are currently 21 — City Manager David Molgaard said the city historically has had a breadth of representatives.
Large numbers have kept election costs low for candidates and allows the city to give affordable salaries to council members, Molgaard said.
“If you go to larger cities like Los Angeles or even Louisville, they pay their council members sometimes a full-time salary with additional staff to be able to carry on the functions of their duties,” Molgaard said. “The large numbers allow a lot of work to be done in committee. You can have nine members on a committee, and you can get together and not always have a quorum so that the members can interact efficiently. Quite frankly, it’s worked very well for us.”
The most drastic ward changes would take place on Charleston’s West Side, where there has been the most population loss, Vaughn said.
“We’ve got to keep the populations and everything together as much as possible,” Vaughn said.
South Hills wards 14 and 20, as well as eastern wards 11 and 12, saw gains that put them out of the allowable 10 percent variance.
Wards must have a population range of 2,326 to 2,570 people.
The 2010 U.S. census showed Charleston’s population was 51,400, down nearly 4 percent from 53,421 residents in 2000.
The 20-ward bill will be drafted and introduced at the May 5 City Council meeting.
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