McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Local News

September 13, 2011

Butting heads on head count

McAlesterre-drawing the boundaries for the city’s six wards must include inmate population when drawing new boundaries for wards

McALESTER — Several McAlester residents told members of the city’s Ward Commission on Monday night that they didn’t like including state prison inmate populations when re-drawing the boundaries for the city’s six wards.

Ward Commission members responded they didn’t like it either — but said they were required to do so.

The matter arose during a public meeting the Ward Commission held Monday night at the Kiamichi Technology Center’s Seminar Center.

Ward Commission members, with the exception of Commission Chairman Evans McBride, were appointed by city councilors from the city’s six wards. Commission members then selected McBride to serve as commission chairman.

Most of the citizens who attended and spoke during the meeting were concerned about including the prison population in Ward 4, which means Ward 4 Councilor Robert Karr will be losing a number of his regular constituents.

Among those questioning the loss were Karr himself.

Ward Commission Chairman McBride told those present that the Ward Commission had to follow strict guidelines to redraw the city’s ward boundaries to reflect population changes in the 2010 federal census.

McBride said the city’s population had grown from 17,783 to 18,383, or by 600 individuals, between the 2000 and the 2010 Census.

Commission members have said they were following requirements of the City Charter. However, McBride said that even if the charter hadn’t required the prison population to be included when redrawing the boundaries,  it’s likely that federal and state law would have required it anyway.

When one woman in the audience responded that prison inmates don’t vote, Ward Commission member Mel Stubbings told her that it was not about who votes — but was required to be about population.

McBride also told those present that the Ward Commission had managed to stay within the required  5 percent variance in population when redrawing the boundaries — and had actually come in less than 4 percent.

Dorothy Crone, who had been a member of the commission that created the new City Charter, said it had not been the members’ intent to have the prison  inmate population included when redrawing the ward boundaries.

“I served on the City Charter (Commission) when we made those changes,” she said.

“I think we made a little mistake that needs to be corrected.”

McBride said the city might consider taking another look at that part of the charter, but he said any changes would not take place until the 2020 Census results are completed.

He also suggested that if the proposed change is made not to include the prison population next time, that a provision be added that it would be in effect as long as it was not in conflict with state or federal law.

City residents will now have 30 days to present their thoughts on the proposal to the city council, before the Ward Commission presents its plan for approval by city councilors.

Once the Ward Commission presents the matter to the city council, the city council will have 14 days to reject any provision of the proposed changes. If the council does not reject the document within 14 days after officially receiving the document, it will go into effect, McBride said.

If the council does reject it, the Ward Commission would have to start again.

During the meeting, McBride related how East Central University had been involved in creating the changes, to take the political process out of it.

No effort had been made to serve the interests of any particular city councilor, he said.

To see the proposed boundaries, see Tuesday’s issue of the McAlester News-Capital.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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