September 25, 2012

Editorial: Participate in redistricting


---- — The committee charged with reshaping City of Plattsburgh election districts has kept politics out of the mix. Soon, the Common Council will have to finish the job — with the same intent, we hope.

The city’s election districts need to be adjusted after every U.S. Census to ensure that about the same number of people live in each of the six wards. Based on recommendations by city councilors, Mayor Donald Kasprzak appointed five fair-minded and respected residents to the Redistricting Committee: Chairman Peter Ensel, James Barcomb, Becky Kasper, Peg DeGrandpre and AnneMarie Farrell.

Their goal, right from the start, was to assess and rework the districts without letting politics play a role in any decisions.

The city’s population, based on the 2010 Census, was 19,989, meaning that each ward has to have about 3,332 people. The committee was allowed to use a variance of 5 percent below the average and 5 percent above, which put the goal at 3,165 to 3,498 residents per ward.

Because of the boom in housing on the “old base” portion of the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base property and nearby areas, Ward 2 had grown to 4,495 people. So that ward was going to need a significant reduction.

Under the redistricting plan, two Plattsburgh State dormitories would be moved from Ward 2 to Ward 3, which had only 2,904 residents. Other, smaller changes were made to other wards.

Election district changes, in general, present an opportunity for political operatives to influence party numbers. But Ensel assures us that the committee members kept strictly to the numbers during their discussions. 

“We never looked at (residents’) names — the only exception being we looked at the residences of sitting council members and didn’t want to move them out of the ward they were currently representing.”

The Plattsburgh City Charter requires that a hearing be held so the public can learn details of the plan and make their feelings about it known. Residents are invited to go to City Hall at 6 tonight to weigh in on the proposal.

“It’s a vehicle for the community to comment, both favorably and unfavorably, on the proposal and participate in the process,” Ensel said.

It’s a chance for residents to have a role in their government, to feel the satisfaction of having overseen or contributed to the election process, so we hope people will turn out tonight.

All of the comments will be recorded and presented to the Common Council members within 30 days of the hearing. The councilors can approve the plan, or they can send it back to the committee with suggestions for change. Any changes would be up to the committee, which would then would submit a final plan for council approval.

Since the plan appears to have been conceived without any political maneuvering, we trust city councilors will finish the process without any major manipulation.