WARREN – Councilmen John Brown and Vince Flask probably didn’t expect as much suspicion surfacing Saturday as it did when they held a town hall-type meeting to further discuss redistricting the city’s wards.
Both men said they only want to keep residents updated on the plan to even up the population in all seven wards that represent the city that keeps shrinking in the number of constituents.
One visitor insisted the meeting was violating the Sunshine Law, and others were concerned about how the redistricting will change the makeup of precincts and the locations where they vote.
Another councilman said the plan will never be in place before the fall general election.
”It’s just bad timing,” said 2nd Ward Councilman Al Novak. “We’ve lost 21 precincts in the last 20 years. Polling places have closed because a lot of schools have closed.”
”I was a councilman-elect in 1991 the last time they did this. Our Planning Department did it and there was some gerrymandering. It affected a lot of people and people don’t forget,” Novak said. ”We need people’s input and meetings arranged in the day and night.”
Brown, a 3rd Ward councilman, said that was the reason for airing the issue on a Saturday morning at the the Knights of Columbus Hall on East Market Street during a gathering of the Northeast Warren Neighborhood Association.
He also assured resident Clyde Wilson that the meeting was perfectly legal since no legislation was being discussed.
Redistricting is, by law, supposed to happen within a year after the national census is completed every 10 years. Warren’s last approved redistricting plan was adopted in 1991.
Brown said the legislative committee missed the boat after the 2000 Census and never pushed for a redistricting plan. So this time, he convinced the city to spend about $3,000 and allow Youngstown State University to come up with a plan.
City Council has discussed the plan several times since January in committees and as a whole.
”Nothing is etched in stone yet,” he said. ”But I don’t see why this can’t get done before the November election. It must be finalized at least 90 days before the vote, under the law.”
He said Niles accomplished a similar redistricting without much problem after the last census.
Since the 1990 census, the city’s population has declined from 50,793 to 41,557 in the 2010 census. A major loss in population has left the wards in the city at various sizes. Brown’s 3rd Ward has about 6,500 people and the 4th Ward has dwindled to about 4,800 people.
Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, Ward 6, asked Brown and Flask to investigated further what type of sanctions the city could face if it didn’t follow through on a new redistricting plan.
Council President Jim Graham said even though he’s been on council less than three months, it appears to him that Brown and Flask are seeking as much input as they can.
”We’re much better off doing this ourselves rather than have the state come in and throw a map on the table and dictate to use how to do it,” Graham said.