Weekly, for the last three months, a redistricting commission has been meeting to very carefully examine how the city could redraw its six city council districts. By law, after the completion of the U.S. Census, the boundaries of all elected districts are to be redrawn to make sure they’re equal in population.
The nonpartisan commission, made up of nine members representing each of Kansas City’s districts, have heard the concerns of and gotten feedback from community members.
After deliberating on several different maps, on Nov. 22, the commission voted 6-3 on a final map that would drastically change the districts in the Northland and make significant changes to the Fifth and Sixth Districts.
The commission’s recommended boundaries, which the commission will present for approval to city council the week of Dec. 7, create a horizontal divide to the Northland, make the Sixth District vertical and extend the Fifth District south.
Important to the drawing of the district boundary lines is ensuring minority representation. The recommended map has 54% Black representation in the Third District and 57% Black representation in the Fifth District. Representation for Latinos, which the commission worked hard to address, is 19% in the Third District and 22% in the Fourth District.
“This is an equity issue,” said Third District Redistricting Commissioner Clinton Adams. “It’s unconscionable to me that it’s been almost two generations without a Latino on city council. To the extent that we can, we have to take that into consideration.”
Latinos make up about 10% of Kansas City’s population.
Those commissioners representing the Northland were split on whether the Northland should be horizontally divided. The Northland is currently split vertically, with the Kansas City Airport and Gladstone in the Second District and the area north of NE Vivion Road and NE Parvin Road in the First District. The suggested map includes everything north of Barry Road in the First District.
Second District Commissioner Martin Rucker said redrawing the entire Northland was too drastic based on what a few community members suggested.
“It just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do,” he said.
Other commissioners including First District Commissioner and chair Stephanie Smith think the horizontal option is a worthy opportunity for the greater good of the entire city.
The Case for Moving from Six To 12 City Council Districts
During the redistricting process, there has been a lot of interest expressed in seeing more and smaller districts with most people expressing concern that the current six district system with 85,000 people in each is far too large for all voices to be heard.
While the decision to create more districts is not within the redistricting committee’s power, Redistricting Committee Chair Stephanie Smith said the committee could include it in their recommendations to the city council.
John Sharp, former Sixth District councilman, said at a redistricting meeting that the large districts make it much more difficult for minorities to win a seat running at-large.
“If you can’t raise a lot of money to run at-large, you’re at a disadvantage,” Sharp said, adding that having larger districts means having to have more resources. “Only having six districts, it’s hard to run door-to-door campaigns because the districts are so big.”
To create more districts, the mayor would need to form a Charter Review Commission to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide. Some community members say 12 districts would help protect minority representation on the City Council and increase the likelihood of getting a Latino elected to the council.
The redistricting commission is recommending a review of the number of city council districts as a result of community feedback. That recommendation will be a part of their presentation next month.
City council must make a final decision on the map by the end of the year.