A City Council committee that will remap the city’s 50 wards on Tuesday recommended an initial round of public hearings that would start Wednesday without any formal public notice and no proposed map to review.
Ald. Richard Mell, 33rd, chairman of the Rules Committee that will draw up the new map, said the six hearings are aimed at getting general public input.
He told aldermen one hearing would be held at a later date to discuss a specific map, adding that “nothing is written in stone.” Mell said he is willing to hold more hearings on a specific map proposal after a coalition of civil rights and community groups said at least five were needed.
“Yeah, I’m not going to let them get all bent out of joint because we had one or two meetings less than they wanted,” Mell said after the Rules Committee he heads up approved a public hearing schedule. “I don’t mind going out to three or four different places if they really wanna, if it will accomplish something.”
Mell was responding to comments made by Jocelyn Woodard, a coordinator for the Illinois Campaign for Accountable Redistricting, which includes groups such as the Mexican American Legal, Defense and Educational Fund that have played a significant role in previous ward remaps.
Woodard called for five hearings after a map is made public, and asked Mell to delay the initial round of hearings to allow for more public notice.
“We certainly believe that there’s more time needed to notify the public about the hearings,” Woodard said. “We understand there’s a time constraint, but 24 hours is probably not adequate notice.”
In response, Mell said he is willing to schedule further hearings if aldermen hear that their constituents feel left out of the process.
The initial hearings, Mell said, allow community groups, block clubs and even parishes to make it clear they don’t want to be divided by ward boundaries. “Chinatown’s going to come, that one I guarantee ya, and say ‘we all wanna be in one ward,’ ” he said.
The city must redraw its wards every 10 years to reflect changes in population as documented by the census. Latinos are pressing for more wards with Hispanic majorities, while African Americans are fighting to maintain their majority-black wards even though their population numbers dropped significantly.
The law says the city must approve a new map by Dec. 1, but aldermen can agree to do it later in the month, as they did 10 years ago, city officials said.
If any group of 10 or more aldermen proposes an alternate map, the proposals go to referendum. And there’s always the threat of costly litigation. Mell led a process 10 years ago that managed to avoid those pitfalls.
Mell said that on Nov. 23, 2001, which was his and his late wife’s marriage anniversary, he worked all day on the map and then again on Thanksgiving “to craft something we could all be unhappy with, but we could all accept. So that’s our goal. I think if we go in with that attitude, we’ll be able to do it. If we go in with an attitude that, ‘no, it’s got to be my way or the highway,’ then it’s gonna be the highway.”
Under the plan recommended today and slated for a City Council vote tomorrow, hearings would be held as follows:
*6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, North Park Village Administration Building community room, 5801 N. Pulaski Rd.
*6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, North — Grand High School auditorium, 4338 W. Wabansia Ave.
*6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 8, South Shore International College Prep High School gym, 1955 E. 75th St.
*6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 9, Morgan Park High School auditorium, 1744 W. Pryor Ave.
*6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 14, Whitney Young High School library, 211 S. Laflin St.
*10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 17, City Hall City Council chambers, 121 N. LaSalle St.
People also can send remap comments to the Rules Committee through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via fax at 312-744-4843.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun