Charter Commission will redraw Mpls political boundaries

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Every 10 years, Minneapolis redraws its political boundaries based on the census count. When the next redistricting, as it is called, takes place in 2012, the task will for the first time fall to the Minneapolis Charter Commission courtesy of an amendment that voters passed November 2. 

In 1980 a charter plan was approved by voters to establish a redistricting committee to do the job; the city council had done redistricting from 1946 up to that point. The last time redistricting took place was in 2001, when political-party domination reportedly biased the process in order to draw the district lines to their advantage.

“The [redistricting committee] process didn’t work very well,” says Council Member Elizabeth Glidden. She and Council Member Cam Gordon proposed that redistricting be done instead by the city’s Charter Commission.

“I thought there needed to be a more transparent system,” explains Glidden.

As a result, an amendment to give redistricting duties to the Minneapolis Charter Commission was put on the November 2 general election ballot and passed with over 55 percent of the vote. The current redistricting committee will therefore be eliminated and the commission will assume that responsibility.

“I think it will make for a less partisan process than the old process,” Charter Commission Chairman Barry Clegg told the MSR last week.

The commission members are appointed by Hennepin County Chief Judge James Swenson. All 15 current members are White.

Each member serves a four-year term, and the commission “is not appointed all at once, so there are terms that are expiring all the time,” explains Clegg, who adds that a nine-citizen ad hoc advisory board will also be created.

Asked to explain the commission’s current all-White makeup, Clegg says, “The purpose of adding the advisory board was to provide for diversity.”

He says that he plans to work with various community organizations and others in this regard. “This could mean geographic diversity, racial diversity, ethnic diversity, etc.”

However, according to Glidden the new advisory group “doesn’t have decision-making authority.” She points out that having a diverse commission is important because the city council cannot change any decisions it approves.

[The commission] does a lot of important work, and it should reflect better who lives in Minneapolis,” says Glidden.

The Minneapolis city clerk’s office posts all vacancy notices on the city’s website in the spring and fall of each year. “Oftentimes they have to extend the application period because no one applies,” says Clegg. “The chief judge oftentimes doesn’t have enough applications to choose from.”

I approve charter commission members for dozens of municipalities, and more often than not I get one applicant,” Judge Swenson says. “Sometimes there are three spots open and there are [only] two applicants.”

“Most of the commissions throughout the city don’t reflect the community,” notes State Rep. Jeff Hayden, adding that the Charter Commission is “theoretically” nonpartisan. “I think that the city should have an aggressive, targeted outreach to communities of color to recruit people of color onto the Charter Commission,” he says.

Clegg says, “We are going to be actively recruiting members of the minority community as vacancies occur and as people leave, to fill those spots.”

“The whole community is watching to see if and when the commission becomes more diverse,” says City Council Member Don Samuels. He was among 10 council members who supported the charter change.

“I will be speaking with members of the commission, especially the chair,” Samuels says. “The whole community desires to be represented.”

“We know there will be opportunities to have at least three or more appointments to the Charter Commission between now and when they start the redistricting process,” notes Glidden.

The MSR last week visited two of the Black community’s long-honored meeting places – barbershops – and asked folks there if they knew about the charter proposal prior to voting and what they know about the Minneapolis City Charter Commission.

At TNT Barbershop on 38th Street in South Minneapolis, barber R. Bernard Walters admitted, “I hadn’t heard about it. How do they go about picking these 15 people? Have they already been picked?”

He believes that redistricting “affects everything from the income flow all the way down to elections” and sees it as an eventual “takeover” of the North Side by city officials. “It sounds like another ‘end-around,'” said Walters.

“If you are going to leave such a decision up to the voters, you should be telling them [about it],” said Northeast resident Mike Gregorie. “I just left it blank because I didn’t know anything about it. I think that’s what a lot of people did.”

Michael Lee also said he didn’t know about the new amendment. When he learned that all 15 commission members were White, he said, “That’s not right [or] fair… [It] is going to be one-sided, because what they say pretty much will go.”

Redistricting “is taking away the influence of the constituents of North Minneapolis, and it’s not fair,” barber Tarik Yusef pointed out. “We need to take the time and find some other people that represent the community a little bit better.”

Across town, three women at Wright Haircuts, located on the corner of Penn Avenue North and Golden Valley Road, said they too were unaware of the charter amendment. Owner Connie Harris said none of the pre-election literature she received made any reference to it. “I didn’t check [yes or no]” when she voted, said Harris.

Grace Whitson, who like Harris passed over the measure when she voted, added, “I didn’t see anything about it either.”

Barber Etta Christon strongly suggested that community residents “make some noise at the [next] city council meeting” because the public was not fully informed of the ballot measure.

Since redistricting doesn’t begin until 2012, “I think that gives us a couple of years to expand that representation on the commission,” says Clegg.

“We are going to write a job description for the advisory board and create this outreach plan for members of the advisory board and for new members of the commission. We also will begin writing a new set of rules for how we would consider redistricting in 2012.”

He announced that the advisory board applications should be available next fall.

Walters said he would seriously consider applying. “A person like me who does nothing all day but cut hair, go to church and go home, who has a little time to do something – what are my requirements [to apply]?”

For further information on the Charter Commission, contact Peggy Menshek at 612-673-2287 or peggy. menshek@ci.minneapolis.mn.us.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.