Friday, June 29, 2012
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Legalities could force Lincoln ward reduction

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[June 29, 2012]  Tuesday evening at the Lincoln City Council committee of the whole, Mayor Keith Snyder brought up the topic of redistricting the city wards.

When the 2010 census took place, the final results showed that the city of Lincoln had a population of slightly under 15,000.

Illinois state laws are sketchy on the subject, but it appears that the city is going to have to redistrict its wards from five to four because of the drop in population.

The issue is sketchy because, according to Snyder, the law appears to say in one section that redistricting is required and in another section that it is not.

City attorney Blinn Bates has talked to the Illinois Municipal League on the subject and has advised the council that it would be in their best interest to do the redistricting.

Tuesday evening, Snyder said that as suggested by Alderman David Wilmert several months ago, he has looked into what it would take to challenge the census statistics.

To contest the population figures, the city would have three options:

They could challenge the accuracy of the city boundaries that were used in the count. Snyder said this one would be very difficult because the city of Lincoln had received documents outlining the city boundaries and had been asked to verify they were correct, which the city had done.

The second option would be to challenge the "geo-coding" of the census. This would involve challenging what the census reported as the number of people living within the areas as they were plotted by the census takers.

Finally, the city could challenge the accuracy of the count based on census coverage. In this challenge the city would need to offer a valid explanation of how the census may have excluded some residents.

Of the three challenges, the last is the one most likely to be successful, but Snyder said a lot of time would have to be invested in gathering supporting evidence for the challenge. He said he didnít feel the city had sufficient time for such an undertaking.

However, if the city were to challenge the figures, Snyder said that would not initiate a recount on the part of the Census Bureau. The bureau would instead consider the validity of the challenge based on what was submitted to them and then render a decision, and that decision could go either way.

As the council discussed what to do, Wilmert asked Bates to talk about what the consequences would be if the city decided to go by the second part of the state law and remain as five districts.

Bates said there was a risk that decisions made by the 10-member council could be challenged as illegal because they were not operating according to state law. He said this would put the council on shaky ground on any decision they made, as it would be open to being contested.

Wilmert also asked if that would involve someone reporting the council to the state, and Bates said that more than likely it would.

Bates was also asked if there were any legal cases on record that involved this. He said to date there are no cases on record where decisions have been challenged. However, he said there was a case on record where the state forced the municipality to reduce their number of wards and aldermen.

During discussion it also came up that the last time the city wards were mapped out was in the 1970s.

Because the wards are supposed to be somewhat equal in population, Snyder said the 40-year span could have an effect on the wards regardless of if there were four or five.

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Snyder said he had talked to Bruce Harris & Associates, the firm that did the same work for Logan County recently, and he charges $150 per hour to remap the wards. Snyder suggested that perhaps the city needed to do two maps, one for the five wards and one with four.

Harris had told Snyder that when doing the county, there were not a lot of hours involved, so it was done relatively inexpensively. On the other hand, he said the county did not change their number of districts, which may have made the process simpler.

Chuck Conzo, city treasurer, agreed that regardless of what the city does about the number of wards, a remapping is probably long overdue.

Wilmert asked Bates if he could contact the attorney generalís office and get a clarification on the law from them. Bates said he could, but he didnít feel they would give him a good answer. He went on to say that he felt that if there were a good answer to this problem, the Illinois Municipal League would have been able to tell him so.

Wilmert said for him it just didnít sit well that the city should have to go to the effort and expense, when the population count shows that the city is below 15,000 by only about 150.

Bates also noted that even if the attorney generalís office did offer an out, it could be overturned in a court of law if the city were challenged on one of their decisions.

Alderwoman Jonie Tibbs asked how the wards could be remapped and what it would mean for the aldermen. She noted that the aldermen have to live in their wards, and that could become a problem.

Alderwoman Melody Anderson addressed that, saying that all the aldermen would have to run for election again.

Snyder expanded on that, saying that if the city went to eight aldermen, all eight would have to be elected at the same time. After the election, there would be a drawing among the aldermen that would stagger the terms in the new wards, with a two-year seat for one alderman and a four-year seat for the other alderman. This is done for continuity of experience in each ward. A ward would not have two inexperienced representatives at once.

Snyder also told the council they are working against a time limit. The new wards must be established 30 days before the next election, which will be in November, meaning this must be finished no later than October.

He concluded the discussion by asking the councilís permission to have further discussions with Harris & Associates. He said he could talk to that firm, then this could be brought up again for council discussion at the July 6 meeting.


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