Highland Square would get its own ward under a redistricting proposal Akron City Council is considering.
The West Akron neighborhood has been divided among four wards — 1, 3, 4 and 8 — but would be part of a newly drawn Ward 1 that would no longer include North Hill.
This is the biggest change under the proposed redrawing of the ward boundaries, which was shared with council members and the public Monday.
The plan would force two council members — Jim Hurley, who now represents Ward 1, and Bruce Kilby, who currently represents Ward 2 — into the new Ward 2, which will include North Hill and Chapel Hill. This could mean a showdown between the two councilmen in next year’s municipal races and a new council member for Ward 1, which extends into part of the University of Akron area and downtown. Ward council members must live in the ward they represent for a year before they are elected.
Several council members and members of the public raised questions about the proposal, particularly about how it pits two council members against each other and asked that other configurations be considered. They questioned whether Kilby was purposely put into a ward with another councilman because he butts heads with the administration.
“I am extremely suspicious of the motivation behind this redistricting and the political implications,” said at-large Councilman Mike Williams.
Council President Marco Sommerville said the main goal of the redistricting was to keep neighborhoods intact. He also wanted to put Highland Square mostly into one ward because he thought it didn’t make sense to have it so divided.
“I think it’s a fair map and I think it’s good for the city,” he said. “That’s why we did it this way.”
The city paid TRIAD Research Group in Cleveland $20,000 to help in redrawing the ward boundaries, a process required after the census every 10 years.
Robert Dykes of Triad, who is helping Akron redraw its lines for the third time, presented the proposal to council members and the public during a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday. He highlighted the process he used, which included:
•?Equalizing the population among the city’s 10 wards. He said census numbers showed Wards 1, 6 and 8 with too many people and Wards 2, 3 and 4 with not nearly enough — with each having between about 1,000 and 2,000 under the average ward population.
•?Under the proposed new lines, the average number of people in each ward would be 19,911, with a deviation of less than 2 percent from this average in each ward.
•?Three majority black wards — 3, 4 and 5 — would remain intact. Each of those wards has an African-American population of 55 percent or higher. The Voting Rights Act requires municipal governments to maintain wards with minority representation.
•?Neighborhoods throughout most of the city would remain in the same wards they are now in, such as Ellet in Ward 6, Firestone Park in Ward 7 and Kenmore in Ward 9.
Dykes said Akron, more than most cities, has identifiable neighborhoods and the proposed new boundaries try to respect that.
“People do not say, ‘I’m from Akron.’ They say, ‘I’m from Ellet or Kenmore or North Hill,’?” Dykes said. “Neighborhoods have more of a meaning.”
Kilby asked why — if the goal was to keep neighborhoods intact — the area where he lives wasn’t made part of Ward 10, which is Goodyear Heights. He said he and his neighbors consider themselves part of Goodyear Heights — not North Hill or Chapel Hill.
“They shouldn’t be thrown into a ward they have nothing to do with,” said Kilby, whose ward has been changed through redistricting in the past. “That’s not right to those people. This is not about us — it’s about the people.”
Sommerville said this could be a possible change — to draw Kilby into Ward 10. (He might then have to face off against Councilman Garry Moneypenny.)
Kilby said he would be willing to run for any ward seat or at-large or he might not run at all.
Hurley said his main interest was in primarily representing North Hill residents who are “the people who call me on the phone.” He said his intention wasn’t to challenge Kilby or try to push him out.
“I’m not here to get Mr. Kilby,” he said.
Linda Omobien, an at-large council member, said she thinks the lines can be drawn so that neighborhoods are kept intact, but council members are still in their wards. She said this was done for eight ward council members and should be possible for the other two.
Donnie Kammer, the Ward 7 councilman, asked Dykes why he had part of Ward 5 taken from his ward and another part of Ward 5 added in under the new configuration.
Dykes said he would look into the reason for the change and get back to Kammer.
During the public hearing, the comments were mixed, with a few supporting the proposal, some opposed and others simply critical of the process.
Patti Longville said council should have provided the public with the plan sooner than right before the meeting, so that they could have given a more informed input.
John Bryson urged council to stick with a plan that puts Highland Square and a neighboring West Hill neighborhood into a single ward.
“I do not see the point in sacrificing a neighborhood for the convenience of a single council member,” he said.
Willie Smith asked why — with Akron’s population declining — the city still needs 13 council members (10 ward and 3 at-large). He said the city could save substantially by eliminating the salaries and benefits of three council members.
After the meeting, Sommerville said he will take all the comments under advisement, meet with Dykes and decide where to go from there.
“We’ll look at it and see if it makes sense,” he said. “We need to boil it down to what’s best for the community.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.