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Commission approves Warren council districts

Each of five districts spans areas of north and south Warren, population nearly equal

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published March 21, 2011

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WARREN — Those wishing to run for a seat on the Warren City Council now know, barring any successful legal challenges, which district they’ll run in, providing they don’t file to run at-large.

The city’s Redistricting Commission, meeting for the first time as a full group of five members, voted 4-1 on March 15 to adopt a plan recommended by the Planning Department to divide the city into five City Council districts, each of which stretches into areas of both north and south Warren.

The commission is chaired by City Assessor Marcia D. Smith and includes City Attorney James Biernat, City Clerk Paul Wojno, and two appointees of Mayor Jim Fouts: former County Commissioner Joan Flynn and Hilary Kutella, a long-serving member of the Fitzgerald Public Schools Board of Education.

The group, minus Kutella and Flynn, had met three times before to draft the districts following the passage of two charter amendments in November. The amendments, which began with petitions circulated by members of the Warren Tea Party, sought to cut the size of the Warren City Council from nine to seven members and to divide the city into five council districts.

Beginning with this year’s city elections, five members of the council will live in, run in and represent individual districts, while the remaining two will run in and represent the city at large.

The Redistricting Commission previously set its rules and a timetable for action. Four citizens submitted plans ahead of a deadline to do so last month, and the commission, acting as a quorum of three — the appointments of Kutella and Flynn were finally confirmed by the Warren City Council on March 8 — asked Warren’s planning staff to draft its own recommendation based on an analysis of the plans submitted, the city’s established voter precinct boundaries, and population data from the 2000 Census.

Apportioned districts are also required to be contiguous, compact and as equal in population size as possible.

A decision was delayed when the commission’s three seated members met on March 4, which allowed the planning staff more time to analyze the data and prepare a recommendation.

“The plan that we have provided, it has basically the following attributes: It uses the U.S. Census data within 1 percent of the 27,647 people that are needed for each and every individual district,” Warren Planning Director Ron Wuerth said. “The districts are indeed contiguous; they follow and touch all the lines that are necessary. The districts are reasonably compact. The district lines also follow precinct lines, except for four minor instances. We think we’ve done a pretty good job trying to reduce that amount.

“The plan does have two reasonably compact districts. The plan also has three more elongated districts. The districts all share boundaries that overlay I-696, which is commonly viewed as a dividing line between north and south Warren,” Wuerth said.

The commission’s members offered little unsolicited comment ahead of their vote to approve the districts as recommended by city planners.

Biernat cast the lone dissenting vote; he later indicated that his objections were “technical in nature,” in that he didn’t view the districts presented in the plan to be sufficiently compact.

“I want to make it clear that I respect all the hard work of my colleagues on this commission, and I’m satisfied that the plan adopted was the product of a good-faith effort to implement the will of Warren’s electorate,” Biernat said. “I’m hopeful that the plan adopted will withstand strict scrutiny and be deemed to be fundamentally even-handedly drawn.”

A majority of the Warren City Council’s incumbent members openly opposed the charter amendments before the election in November. Several have repeatedly said the apportionment process outlined as part of the approved charter amendments violated state law, specifically the Home Rule City Act. They argued that the duty of establishing the districts falls to the City Council, the city’s legislative body, according to an opinion offered previously by an assistant to former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox.

It remained unclear last week whether the council would be asked to weigh in on the plan approved by the commission.

The deadline for candidates wishing to file to run in this year’s City Council elections is May 10.
 

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