Monday, November 28, 2011

Vaughn's Redistricting Plan Threatens Ballard's Relationship With Democratic-Controlled Council

Mayor Greg Ballard's approval of a plan by outgoing City-County Council President Ryan Vaughn to redraw precinct boundaries and the council's 25 single-member districts based on the 2010 census data threatens to spoil his relationship with the Democratic-controlled council before the new council is seated. Democrats are upset Vaughn spent $225,000 of the council's budget on a contract with Carmel attorney David Brooks to redraw precinct and council district boundaries. By state law, Ballard is responsible for redrawing the precinct maps. State law also requires the council districts to be redrawn based on the 2010 census during the calendar year 2012.

In an unusual move, Ballard delegated the precinct redistricting responsibility to Vaughn, who included the work in Brooks' contract to redraw the 25 council districts. Apparently Vaughn took it upon himself to enter into the contract with Brooks without discussing the matter with the full council. Naturally, Democrats are upset because they believe the newly-elected council, not the lame duck council, should be allowed to draw the district boundaries next year as provided by law. They also believed city employees could have been tasked to redraw the precinct boundaries without incurring any additional costs to taxpayers. It also appears the council redistricting work could have been done for a fraction of the cost Vaughn paid the Republican-connected Brooks to perform the work.

Laying that aside, Vaughn seems determined to move forward with his redistricting plans. He plans to introduce an ordinance approving the new maps at the council's December 5 meeting. He is also conducting three public hearings over the next ten days. Vaughn insists the maps are geographically compact, of similar population size and follow the new precincts map being simultaneously proposed. He also insists the proposed map is "politically competitive" and "designed to reflect the community with which it serves."

I took a quick review of the proposed 25 council districts. I found about 10 of the districts drawn to favor the Democrats, 9 of the districts drawn to favor the Republicans and just 6 of the districts that could be described as truly competitive. It also appears that about 9 of the 25 districts are majority-minority districts. As for the precinct maps, I can't discern what the new boundaries are because there is no street map overlay furnished with the map that has been distributed. The Democrats would have a tough sell convincing a court the council districts have been drawn to disadvantage minorities or the Democratic Party. They also seem to be relatively compact, although they probably could be slightly improved upon. It seems the Democrats' strongest argument is that Vaughn circumvented the law by drawing the district maps in the calendar year before the year set by statute. Whether a court would set aside the map if approved by the outgoing council and signed by Mayor Ballard is hard to predict. The Democrats have hinted they may take the matter to court if Republicans proceed as planned.

Ten years ago, the Republican-controlled council and then-Mayor Bart Peterson were unable to reach a compromise on a new map. The issue wound up in the Indiana Supreme Court, which drew the current council district map. At the moment, things appear headed towards the same train wreck that occurred then unless Mayor Ballard can reach some compromise with the Democrats. Council Democrats appear too angered with Vaughn to hope for any compromise between them. Mayor Ballard is going to have to decide if he wants to begin his new term battling with the Democratic-controlled council over this issue.

No comments: