Chesterton Tribune

 
 

Burns Harbor may replace town wards with all at-large voting

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

For the first time in its history, the Town of Burns Harbor may not be split up into representative wards.

Members of the Burn Harbor Town Council held a special public workshop on Wednesday before the regular council meeting where it became apparent that there is no easy way to redistrict the wards based on population.

Councilman Greg Miller provided research he has done on Indiana’s redistricting laws for municipalities with populations less than 3,500.

State code says that districts must be contiguous and contain, as much as possible, equal populations or at least within ten percent of each other. Redistricting must be done whenever a federal census is taken and populations shift.

Populations did shift for Burns Harbor’s wards – big time.

According to the 2010 census figures from Clerk-Treasurer Jane Jordan, the town’s first district to the northwest of the 80/94 roadway has a population of 198. The second district to the east has a population of 280. The third district, south of 80/94, has a population of 677.

The spike in Ward 3 population from the last census is because of the development in The Village in Burns Harbor and Harbor Trails subdivision, which both went up roughly seven years ago.

Councilman Mike Perrine said he would like to have seen three wards kept with equal population but Miller said unfortunately the law prohibits districts from crossing a census block boundary, that block being the 163 people living in The Village and the 210 surrounding it.

“It puts them in an island,” said Councilman Jeff Freeze.

The state does allow the town to pass an ordinance abolishing the legislative body districts and elect all five of its town council members at-large, something Council President Jim McGee has said he favors.

Councilman Gene Weibel said he “stared a hole” into the population maps looking for a way to keep the wards at three.

“Personally I like it the way it is now… but it’s very difficult to carve three equal, divisible pieces of the pie,” he said.

The trouble with having an all at-large board, Perrine said, is that there could be a situation where all members elected would “come from the same block” and if there was an agenda they wanted to pursue, it would be a cinch for them to pass it even if a large part of the town was against it.

Weibel agreed saying, “People would feel like they are not being represented.”

Freeze said the residents have been comfortable having wards because they know they can take their concerns to their representative who is their point of contact for the Council, although they technically have the right to address their concerns to any of the Council members.

“That’s pretty much the way they do it now,” McGee commented.

From the floor Cliff Fleming said even if the town is redistricted, there will still be growth and population shifts coming before the next census and it is difficult for the Council to foresee where that growth will be.

The town could pass an ordinance to have five at-large members and later conduct a special census of its own for a potential reconsideration for redistricting but that is a very expensive process, Jordan said.

The Council continued to deliberate going all at-large or splitting the town into two wards, which would mean just three at-large members.

Perrine continued to dwell on the what-if of at-large candidates rallying enough voters to support them for a certain cause. Having at-large members from the same area would create the possibility of a particular part of the community getting what it wants.

“Democracy is not perfect. Most people, when they come to vote it is because they have an agenda,” he said.

But Weibel said with not being able to break up that census block in Ward 3, makes redistricting “impossible.”

Freeze said he would like to ask town attorney Bob Welsh, who was not present during the workshop, if there was a legal way to redistrict with that census block.

The overall feeling of the Council by the end of the meeting was to consider abolishing the wards since the population will be different anyway in “three or four years’ time,” but it will take the matter under advisement.

Redistricting needs to be completed by the end of this year, Jordan said.

The town in 1997 went to its current system of having three wards and two at-large seats on the Council. Before then, the town was divided into five districts, Jordan said.

 

 

Posted 10/18/2012