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Archive for Sunday, January 7, 1996

MEETING ADDRESSES LAWRENCE DISTRICTING

January 7, 1996

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More than 30 people attended a districting debate discussion Saturday.

To district or not to district? That is the question.

The answer: There isn't one, at least not yet. But that didn't prevent about 35 people from attending a discussion Saturday afternoon at the Lawrence Public Library on whether city commission elections should change.

The meeting, organized by the League of Women Voters and the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods, offered those attending views from both sides via Forrest Swall, a former state representative and chair of the Democratic Party, and Mary Weisert, political practitioner. Swall is in favor of districting the city so commissioners represent specific areas, while Weisert is opposed.

"There is no system of governance that is perfect," Swall said. "There is no panacea."

Swall said he favored making the change to districting for several reasons.

"There would be increased sense of accountability on the part of the commissioners, more accountability to the constituents," he said. "It would provide a sense of access, knowing who one's commissioner is, and campaigning for candidates would be more feasible."

Weisert disagreed.

"When you draw lines, you create boundaries," she said. "People don't necessarily like boundaries."

The current system combines strong political leadership of elected officials, Weisert said.

Weisert and Swall fielded questions about how the switch to districting would affect specific neighborhoods and how lines could be drawn in the future.

"Lawrence is already divided," said Kerry Altenbernd, a Lawrence school board member. "We might address a way to acknowledge it. It's difficult to run citywide."

The purpose of Saturday's meeting was not to reach a conclusion but to present ideas that might lead to future change in elections.

League of Women Voters board member Lisa Blair said a meeting like the one held Saturday was needed.

"We hope to broaden the base of interest in regards to representation," she said. "Our primary goal is to initiate a discussion and dialogue about the type of representation as it relates to the city commission and whether it should be at-large or direct."

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