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Charleston considers ward consolidation plan

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the Charleston City Council Redistricting Committee are considering a 21-ward redistricting plan that would put neighborhoods in North Charleston in the same ward as the Fort Hill area, a proposal that doesn't sit well with some City Council members.

The city is faced with redistricting because of population loss. The 2010 census revealed that Charleston's population decreased nearly 4 percent in 10 years, from 53,421 in 2000 to 51,400.

More recent estimates from the Census Bureau put Charleston's population at 51,018 in 2012, a 0.6 percent drop from 2010.

"Obviously I'm not very excited about it," said Councilwoman Susie Salisbury, who represents Ward 13 -- the Fort Hill area.

Salisbury said she is concerned there wouldn't be adequate representation for either Fort Hill or North Charleston.

"Can somebody, me or anybody, really represent both those two distinctly different [areas] appropriately as one ward councilperson?" Salisbury asked.

Salisbury described Ward 13 as "traditional" in that it is an older, mostly residential neighborhood.

"What I think it would change is the dynamic for addressing issues," Salisbury said.

While there are issues many neighborhoods face, such as speeding, Salisbury said Ward 13 has its own, such as coyotes, maintaining Danner Meadow Park and a 2012 school redistricting proposal that would have moved students into schools in South Charleston.

Councilman Bobby Haas, who represents North Charleston's Ward 1, said he didn't approve of the proposed solution either.

"I don't think it would be a good idea, but I understand we need to switch," Haas said of redistricting.

Councilwoman at-large Mary Jean Davis, who sits on the committee, said people want to feel truly represented in their ward designations.

"What you're dealing with are people in the areas that they live in," Davis said. "People feel very pleased that they are repped by someone who lives in their ward."

Redistricting Committee Chairman Brent Burton said ward changes must be contiguous with the city's bridges.

"[Wards] 1, 3 and 5 were ones that decreased in population," Burton said. "South Hills was where population increased, so it made it easier to cross the river [at Patrick Street]."

Davis said crossing the Kanawha River is "a big jump, but in order for the numbers to work with the Census you have to balance."

The committee will again address the issue at Wednesday evening's meeting, Burton said.

A 20-ward solution is expected to be presented as an alternative to stretching a ward across the river, but there are questions about the legality of eliminating a ward, Burton said.

"The state code is silent when it comes to decreasing your wards," he said.

While committee members initially felt pressed to make a decision regarding redistricting, Burton said it will only need to be done in time for the 2015 municipal election.

"We might have time to address it when the legislative body is in session this winter," Burton said. "That may be an option to see if they could change the state code to put something in there where we would be allowed to decrease our wards."

The city of Charleston was last redistricted in 2006 when it was found that wards changed in 2002 were not in compliance with federal guidelines.

The Committee on Redistricting will meet Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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