Groups want more public input on city redistricting

BARBARA COTTER Updated: February 16, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: February 16, 2013

The first thing Dave Munger and Kristy Milligan want to make clear is that they think Colorado Springs City Clerk Sarah Johnson did just what she was supposed to last year in drawing the boundaries for six City Council districts: She followed the law.

Their issue isn’t with her, but the law itself. They contend that it doesn’t provide enough opportunities for the public to weigh in during the redistricting process, so the groups they represent are working with three other organizations to change the city ordinance.

“One of the things that is true — it’s not just the leaders of these organizations deciding it’s a priority,” said Milligan, executive director of Citizens Project, a nonprofit active in a number of community issues, including civic engagement. “Our constituents in our community struggled with redistricting the last time, and we hear from folks that this is something that matters.”

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Munger, president of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations, said his group and members of Citizens Project, Colorado Common Cause, the Colorado Springs Diversity Forum and the Black/Latino Coalition were dismayed by the lack of opportunities for public comment, and asked City Council to “correct the deficiencies of the current ordinance.”

City Council then directed its administrator, Aimee Cox, to work on a proposal for its consideration.

Some critics of the effort say that getting the public involved too heavily in redistricting would politicize the process and result in districts drawn to favor one candidate or another. But Munger said the groups aren’t pushing to take the city clerk out of the mix, and final say would still rest with that post.

“There’s no change to the basic requirement that the clerk can still be free to decide on district lines,” he said.

The idea is to make sure the public’s voice is heard in a process that Munger and Milligan say is second in importance only to voting.

“There isn’t any evidence that supports the idea that more citizen involvement creates a more unjust situation — in any circumstance — which is to say that a politically appointed person creating district maps in a closed office is, I think, a greater danger to democracy, with a little ‘d,’ than having lots of public meetings and engaging volunteers and experts,” Milligan said.

Council members Tim Leigh and Angela Dougan questioned the effort during a City Council meeting on Tuesday.

“It feels like this is a politicized process already,” said Leigh, who added he would prefer to get rid of all districts.

Dougan said she would prefer to see a complete review of the city charter, which could encompass the redistricting process.

A draft of a proposal was leaked earlier in the week, leading some people to conclude it would soon be presented to council. But Cox made it clear to council that it was an embryonic version, not even close to being ready for prime time.

“We will work with this group and come back with a proposal for council,” Cox said. At that time, you will have a yea or a nay.”

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