Much like beauty, the best way to redraw a political subdivision is in the eye of the beholder.
Due to population changes noted in the latest U.S. Census, Jefferson City's wards must be redrawn to equalize populations and representation in city government.
The Jefferson City Council on Monday took its first steps toward redrawing those wards by prioritizing minimal to moderate changes in a new city ward system.
City staff presented four map options Monday night, each focused on different aspects of ward redistricting.
Council members only voiced support for the first two options with the first receiving more votes. The vote doesn't finalize a new map, but rather is starting the process.
City staff will host two open houses — 4-7 p.m. Sept. 30 and 3-6 p.m. Oct. 5 in the council chambers at city hall — for members of the public to discuss the four options.
The council will also host a public hearing at its Oct. 18 meeting in the council chambers.
Out of the five wards, three wards' populations declined over the last decade while two increased. Wards 1 and 4 had the largest change, according to city data.
Wards losing population included:
- Ward 1, which had the biggest loss at 5.5 percent, or 621 people.
- Ward 2, which dropped by 3.2 percent, or 262 people
- Ward 5, which dropped by 2.3 percent, or 184 people.
Overall, the city had a 0.4 percent population increase, or 163 people.
Wards gaining population were:
- Ward 4, which had the largest population change with a 12 percent increase, or 949 people.
- Ward 3, which increased by 3.6 percent, or 281 people.
"Ward 4 must shrink," said Eric Barron, planning manager. "Ward 4 is the largest growing ward, it has been for the last 10 years. That is a recurring theme from decade to decade as the city pursues these redistricting requirements that Ward 4 generally has to shrink because that is where a lot of the development, historically, has occurred within our city."
As the council discussed the four options presented Monday, Ward 4 Councilman Ron Fitzwater said he was concerned it would send the wrong message to the public if the City Council selected a preferred option.
"It just seems odd to me that we're setting up public sessions, asking for people's opinions as we take one of the four options to them, saying 'This is our preferred option of the four,'" he said. "To me it sends a message that you're more than welcome to give your opinion, but we've kind of already selected."
By looking at Monday's council agenda, Fitzwater said, most people wouldn't see the council as taking an action on the ward maps.
"I would like to cogitate on this a little bit and bounce it around, see what the public feels about it and then come back," he said, "versus narrowing it down to one, saying there's three other ones floating around out there. But in our wisdom, we have decided this one is the best without input."
Fitzwater also pointed out Ward 1 Councilman David Kemna and Ward 4 Councilman Derrick Spicer were not present for the discussion Monday night or to offer their opinions about the maps.
Ward 5 Councilman Jon Hensley said he understood both concerns if the vote was a final decision rather than a point to start conversation at the public meetings.
"I don't know what the harm is," he said. "It's not binding, and voting on it tonight would also proceed with the plan."
Jefferson City should redraw its ward lines before the beginning of December since filing for the April 5 municipal election opens Dec. 7.
City Attorney Ryan Moehlman said the process doesn't strictly need to be done before the next election, but advised it should be to avoid risk.
"When you conduct an election and you know that your wards are out of whack, there is some risk," he said. "Certainly my preference is to get this done before the election. If someone were to challenge that we failed to get it back by the next candidate filing first and foremost argument is we have three months to do this, and we can't do this important process in that short timeframe."
However, the plan is still in place to have the council approve a new map by the end of November.
Council members ultimately took a poll on which map they preferred. Five council members voted for map one, two for map two and one had no preference between maps one and two.
The first option, which also received the most support, includes a moderate population shift and prioritizes correcting current neighborhood splits.
"There are several locations within the city where ward boundaries are on local streets," Barron said.
Map 1 would move two sections of Ward 4 into Ward 5 with a section of Ward 5 going into each of Wards 1 and 2.
Currently the border between Wards 4 and 5 runs along Cedar Hill Road to Overlook Drive, which turns into Sun Meadow Lane until it reaches Southridge Drive.
Under the proposal, it would start at the intersection of Stadium and Southwest boulevards to Satinwood Drive and follow along Vieth Drive.
Sun Meadow Lane is one of the local streets currently used as a ward boundary, Barron said. The issue with using local streets is it splits neighborhoods with residents on each side of the street in different wards.
The other southern section of Ward 4 up for debate is right on the edge of the city limits, which is two sides of the piece with a third the existing border with Ward 5.
The northern border would be drawn along Route C and go until the city limit.
Under the proposal, both areas would move into Ward 5.
It would also extend the Ward 2 boundary from Jackson Street to Lafayette Street, which would take area out of Ward 5, along with an area from Locust Street to Bald Hill Road with an edge along East Atchison Street would be moved into Ward 1.
The map would have Ward 5 the closest to the ideal population size of 7,992 people with 7,997 people.
Ward 1 would have 7,721 people; Ward 2 would have 8,057; Ward 3 would have 8,132 and Ward 4 would have 8,051.
The second map is similar to the first with a focus on minimizing population shift and boundary changes.
It would move the southern section of Ward 4 into Ward 5. It would still move the part of Ward 5 around Locust Street and Bald Hill Road into Ward 1.
However, the map would also move a northern section of Ward 4 into Ward 2. The area would take an area south of U.S. 50, from Dix Road to Missouri 179.
Council members scrutinized the idea because the area is essentially a long strip of land, which gets narrow at one point.
Barron said the area is largely residential, but also separated from the other residential areas of Ward 4 by commercial areas.
Ward 2 Councilwoman Laura Ward also pointed out the area in question is largely rental apartments and her ward is already mostly rental residents.
"I don't think we should be going for like interest," she said. "I think we need to go for more diversifying of our wards."
Ward 3 Councilwoman Erin Wiseman voiced concern the area may not meet the compactness requirement that comes with drawing districts.
Moehlman said the city could justify it since the piece follows a Census block and the commercial area that breaks it up from the rest of Ward 4.
"Then the question becomes, 'Do the people that live in the area have more of a common interest with some of the dense parts of the neighborhood that are part of Ward 2 or do they have more common interest in the rest of Ward 4?'" he said. "The fact that it is a finger that kind of stretches out in there, doesn't really concern me too much."
Under this option, Ward 1 would have 7,721 people; Ward 2 would have 8,053; Ward 3 would have 8,132; Ward 4 would have 8,355; and Ward 5 would have 7,697.
The third map would have all of the sections move and is focused on making room for Ward 4 to grow.
Barron said the city knows of several subdivisions going into Ward 4 and expect to see it grow more over the next decade.
This map, which would move more than 1,000 people out of Ward 4, would make room for continued growth in the area while keeping the city within the acceptable population range for the ward.
It did not receive any support from council.
Under this option, Ward 1 would have 7,721 people; Ward 2 would have 8,298; Ward 3 would have 8,132; Ward 4 would have 7,810; and Ward 5 would have 7,997.
The fourth map is mostly the same as the third, but is less focused on equalizing the population within the other wards.
Under this proposal, Ward 4 would have the same sections taken out of it, with the northern piece going into Ward 2 and the southern pieces going into Ward 5.
However, rather than two parts of Ward 5 being taken out, it would only take out one.
It would have the area around Lincoln University, which has a high population density, move from Ward 5 and into Ward 1.
It did not receive any support from council.
Under this option, Ward 1 would have 8,110 people; Ward 2 would have 8,053; Ward 3 would have 8,132; Ward 4 would have 7,810; and Ward 5 would have 7,853.