During a public meeting on the redistricting plan, Ward 4 Councilman Pete White (pictured) unveiled a plan that would put a new ward in the southwest part of the city and another south of downtown.
The purpose of the Aug. 9 meeting was to get public input on the redistricting plan. The city will vote on the eight-ward plan on Aug. 30, and if passed, it will take effect Sept. 30.
The 10-ward plan probably will not pass the City Council since the map currently up for consideration consists of eight wards, but White said there is nothing stopping the council from redrawing the lines to create 10 wards next year or the year after that, rather than waiting another decade for the next census.
“I’m not going to stand in the way of this train I believe has already left the station, in regard to continuing this eightward thing,” White said. “The city charter does not require us to stick with eight wards forever. I think it’s an idea whose time has come.”
I think it’s an idea whose time has come.
White said he was inspired to create the 10-ward proposal because of the Capitol Hill district, where he grew up south of downtown. The district has been split between council districts in the past, and the current eight-ward proposal before the council would split the division among four wards, White said.
“It was once a city unto itself, and over the past 50 years, redistricting has sliced this area up into at times as many as five different wards,” White said. “It’s a community that deserves to be reconstituted.”
The council is required by the city charter and U.S. Constitution to redistrict its council wards every 10 years when the census is taken, making sure that each ward has close to the same population figures.
Jane Abraham, community and government affairs manager in the city manager’s office, said city staff tried to get the population numbers in each ward within 2 percent of the mean population — around 72,500 in eight wards. Since the 2000 census, the city grew by 14.6 percent, bringing the current population to around 580,000.
Click here to download a PDF containing a map of the redistricted wards.
Most members of the council, with the exception of White and Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid, said they preferred the eight-ward system.
“It’s my responsibility as councilman not only to represent my ward, but also to try as best I can to represent what’s good for Oklahoma City as a whole,” said Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee, who stated that representing wards extending into the inner city and rural areas of the city gives the council a mix of interests to represent. “I think the eight wards represented here do exactly that. They allow us to focus our attention on not only what is good for our citizens in our ward, but also to promote Oklahoma City as a whole so we can move this whole metropolitan area together.”
Ward 7 Councilman Ronald “Skip” Kelly said he was in favor of the eight-ward plan, but that the time was rapidly approaching in which the council would have to confront the growth of the city and the populations it represents.
“We have a very, very large Hispanic population in this city,” Kelly said. “There was times where it was difficult for an African-American to be represented … on the council, and we’re going see that same challenge sometime in the near future. We need to start looking at these issues, I believe, to be prepared and not have it where it becomes not a fight, but an invite.”
The biggest geographical change in the eight-ward plan under consideration by the council is the western part of Ward 8 being taken into Ward 1 because of a large population influx in Ward 8.
Ward 8 Councilman Pat Ryan said the reason for the large population increase in his ward, which came in about 22 percent above the mean preferred population, was due to people moving to the city’s outskirts to avoid sending their children to Oklahoma City Public Schools. He added that the council must work with the district to improve its performance and slow the trend.
Ryan said he would miss working with neighborhood organizations in Ward 8 that would become part of Ward 1.
“I don’t mind giving up the territory, but I do mind losing the opportunity to work with some really outstanding neighborhoods,” Ryan said.
Photo by Mark Hancock