Coon Rapids council reaches consensus on redistricting

A majority of the Coon Rapids City Council agreed on a redistricting plan for the city’s five wards at a work session March 20.

The five members at the work session – Councilmembers Denise Klint and Melissa Larson were not present – agreed on what is known as Plan 3, one of four redistricting plans presented to the council for consideration by City Clerk Cathy Sorensen.

The council will vote on Plan 3 in the form of an emergency ordinance at its meeting April 3.

An emergency ordinance is needed because under state law cities have to have their redistricting completed on that date.

According to Sorensen, the council at the same meeting will also be asked to act on a resolution setting the precinct boundaries based on Plan 3.

The number of precincts in the city, 22, will remain unchanged, Sorensen said.

In addition, a resolution setting polling places for the newly-drawn precincts is also likely to be on the April 3 agenda and Sorensen anticipates that there will be some new locations, she said.

Plan 3 will mean that Ward 5 Councilmember Bruce Sanders will end up in Ward 3 which is represented by Councilmember Paul Johnson.

Neither Sanders in Ward 5 nor Johnson in Ward 3 are scheduled to be on the ballot this year.

And under state law, they can continue to represent their respective wards until the two seats are up for election again, which will be in 2014, according to Sorensen.

At that time, if Johnson and Sanders both decide to seek re-election, they would oppose each other in Ward 3 and Ward 5 would be an open seat.

Under Plan 3, the three other ward councilmembers – Klint in Ward 1, Larson in Ward 2 and Jerry Koch in Ward 4 – are not impacted by the ward boundary changes.

Councilmember Scott Schulte, who as councilmember-at-large runs citywide like Mayor Tim Howe, liked Plan 3 because it followed “good, solid boundaries,” was “flexible” and had the least deviation in ward populations of the four plans presented.

Only one ward had a triple-digit deviation from the average ward population figure of 12,295 based on the 2010 U.S. Census data, he said.

Plan 3 was Koch’s first choice, too, especially as it did not make Ward 4 “so meandering,” he said.

According to Sanders, Plan 4 was the only option in which he and Johnson would not end up in the same ward, but he would go along with Plan 3.

For Johnson, “at first blush,” Plan 4 would be his preferred option because of the impact Plan 3 would have on residents in the southeast part of the city who had long been part of Ward 3, but who would now find themselves in Ward 5.

But he agreed the ward population numbers would be closer with Plan 3 and it would be better from that standpoint, Johnson said.

Howe, too, preferred the Ward 3 plan because it had the most equality of numbers between each ward of the plans presented and eliminated a ward boundary that goes back to 1990 that has properties on the river in one ward and those across the street in another, he said.

Under state law, the city’s redistricting has to be in place at least 19 weeks before the state primary, which is Tuesday, Aug. 14, according to Sorensen.

But the city could not start redrawing its ward and precinct boundaries until a state courts panel had announced its redistricting plan for the state’s congressional and legislative districts in the wake of the 2010 U.S. Census.

That did not occur until Feb. 21 after the failure of the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton to agree on a redistricting plan put the onus on a five-judge panel to do the work.

Complicating the issue for Sorensen was the fact that Coon Rapids has been carved up into four House districts and three Senate districts by the state courts panel.

While ward boundaries can cross new legislative and congressional district lines, precincts cannot, Sorensen said.

For the U.S. Congress, all of Coon Rapids was placed in the Third District.

The fewer the House and Senate districts in Coon Rapids, the easier it would have been to draw the new boundaries, Sorensen said.

State law also mandates that wards must not deviate more than 5 percent in population between the smallest and largest wards, she said.

All four ward options presented to the council met that requirement, Sorensen said.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]