Redistricting plan is approved by Coon Rapids City Council

The Coon Rapids City Council approved a redistricting plan for the city’s five wards at its April 3 meeting.The new ward boundaries were adopted through an emergency ordinance because April 3 was a state-mandated deadline for cities to complete their redistricting work.

At the same time, the council approved a resolution setting boundaries for the 22 precincts in Coon Rapids; there is no change in the number of precincts.

However, a resolution to establish polling places in those precincts won’t come before the council until later, according to City Clerk Cathy Sorensen.

The council majority on the emergency ordinance, which required five affirmative votes, was 6-1; it was the same margin on the precinct boundaries resolution. Councilmember Paul Johnson voted no in each case.

At a work session March 20, the council discussed four options that had been drafted by Sorensen and reached consensus on what was called Plan 3, which was approved April 3.

Plan 3 means that current Ward 5 Councilmember Bruce Sanders is now living in Ward 3 which is represented by Councilmember Paul Johnson.

But neither Sanders in Ward 5 nor Johnson in Ward 3 are scheduled to be on the ballot this year; they won election two years ago to four-year terms.

The other ward councilmembers – Denise Klint, Ward 1; Melissa Larson, Ward 2; and Jerry Koch, Ward 4 – are not impacted by the boundary changes.

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.

What Johnson objected to in Plan 3 was that the southeast area of Coon Rapids along East River Road, which has traditionally been in Ward 3, would now be in Ward 5, he said.

He preferred Plan 4, which would have retained that area in Ward 3, Johnson said.

Johnson has had several Ward 3 residents raise concerns about the boundary changes, he said.

According to Councilmember Scott Schulte, the council process of redistricting has been non-political and transparent.

Plan 3 is “very functional” and has the least deviation in population than the other three options, he said.

Under state law and city charter, the population in each ward cannot have greater than a 5 percent swing between the largest and smallest population and all four plans meet that test, according to Sorensen.

Using 2010 U.S. Census figures, Sorensen created an average population per ward of 12,295. Under Plan 3, the new Ward 3 was 20 over that number and Ward 4 was 152 under that figure, the only triple-digit deviation.

By contrast Plan 4 had three triple-digit deviations from the average figure.

In Sanders’ view, staff did a “remarkable job” in redistricting since the number of legislative districts in Coon Rapids (four House and three Senate) made it very difficult, he said.

“My ward has changed more than any other,” Sanders said.

But he supported Plan 3 because it was the most balanced, 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.

But the number of people in each precinct is not subject to the 5 percent swing restriction that ward populations are, she said.

For example, in Precinct 2-2 the population is 1,748, while in Precinct 2-3 it’s 2,955 and in Ward 5, the population in Precinct 5-4 is 1,952, but in Precinct 5-2, the number of voters will be 3,208.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]