Archive for Tuesday, October 16, 2001

County redistricting to avoid major changes

October 16, 2001


Douglas County commissioners at a Monday morning study session began the once-a-decade process of redrawing district lines to ensure each district has equal population, but did not agree on where to draw the new boundaries.

Instead, commissioners focused on several general issues, like a desire to make all the commission's districts contiguous and eliminate several island areas that exist throughout the county.

"I think we should try to draw them in a way that will allow residents to understand where their district is," said Commissioner Charles Jones. "Maybe draw the boundaries along major streets or roads. Something that will allow us to describe our district in less than five paragraphs."

Several island areas were created by the commission in 1990 to avoid splitting a township into two or more districts. That decision left the 2nd District, currently represented by Bob Johnson, split into three separate areas that don't touch each other -- an eastern section that includes Baldwin and Eudora, a northern section that includes North Lawrence and Grant Township, and a sizable chunk of southeast Lawrence. The first and third districts have several smaller islands as well.

Based on new census numbers, County Administrator Craig Weinaug told commissioners they'll either have to live with the islands and split townships, or make large-scale changes in how districts are configured. Both Johnson and Commissioner Jere McElhaney said they wanted to avoid major changes in district configurations.

"I think it would send the wrong message if we redraw the district lines in a way where 90 percent of people in District 1 are now in District 3," Johnson said.

Commissioner Charles Jones said he wanted to make some changes that deviate from past practices. Specifically, Jones said he wants his 1st District, which has always been entirely within the Lawrence city limits, to include some rural area.

Jones, the commission's lone Democrat, said his district needs to include areas that are expected to see growth, or else in 10 years his district's population will be significantly smaller than the other two. Plus, Jones said, it would help ensure that all three commissioners have rural interests in mind.

"It's not right that I technically don't have to think about the impacts of rural Douglas County," Jones said.

McElhaney and Johnson said they would want to think about the idea and research why past commissioners have felt it important that the 1st District be entirely within the city.

Commissioners are working to create districts of roughly 33,320 people each.

McElhaney's 3rd District is about 4,200 residents above that total. The 2nd District is roughly 2,400 residents below the mark, while the 1st District is about 1,800 residents short.

The issue is expected to be back on the commission's agenda in approximately two weeks, and should be completed by the end of the year.

-- Staff writer Chad Lawhorn can be reached at 832-6362.

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