Redistricting or re-dictating?

Residents want input in redrawn map of City Council districts

By: Gena Johnson | Warren Weekly | Published January 23, 2023


WARREN — Warren City Council members approved the redistricting map for city’s council districts days before their Jan. 10 council meeting. The Redistricting Commission met on Jan. 10 to vote on the already approved map.

This confused residents, who wanted input on a decision that would affect their lives for the next 10 years.

“I was hoping you would allow residents to have some say-so in how the districts would be drawn,” said Joe Rutherford.  “We would like to have a voice especially when it comes to something that is done every 10 years.”

In 2010, Warren voters approved a change to the city charter that cut the size of the City Council from nine to seven members, with five elected to represent individual districts and two serving at-large. The original districts were established following a contentious process the following year, before Warren’s 2011 city election cycle began.

The redistricted map reflects the population gains or losses of the community as determined by the U.S. Census, which is conducted every 10 years.  With these changes, new district lines are drawn.  The districts must be balanced at around 27,000 people, according to Warren City Council President Pat Green.

Green explained how Council arrived at the current map without input from the public.

“Through conversations with the mayor’s attorney and our (council’s) attorney, (we) came up with an agreement that council would approve the map,” said Green. “We looked at it. Submitted it to each council member. And they agreed upon it.  And that was the end of it.”

Time was running out for the City Council to act on this issue because the deadline to file for an elected position is looming in April.

“Being left with the short time frame that we were up against for people to prepare, decide, contemplate running for office,” Green said. “We looked at the reapportionment and thought it was the fairest map that was out there.”

But that may not be the end of it. Residents want to be represented in the decisions that affect them and require the transparency and accountability that they were assured.

“I loved and believed you when you talked about transparency and accountability. And residents would have a say in the redistricting,” said Michael Howard. “Both the council and the administration failed in terms of the public involvement they promised.”

“The Redistricting Commission that met last week was solely to aggravate us,” said Green. “The decision (of selecting the redistricting map) had already been done.”

Many Warren residents wondered why there was no resident representation on the Warren Redistricting Commission, as the charter dictates.  The charter calls for it to include the city attorney, city clerk and assessor, along with two residents appointed by the mayor.  There were no residents on the commission.

“I don’t understand the Redistricting Commission because it wasn’t like the city charter said with two residents appointed by the mayor,” said Joe Rutherford.

“The biggest problem with the redistricting and why it took so long was I appointed two citizens two years ago to the Redistricting Committee,” said Mayor James Fouts.  “The council never put it on the agenda.  Obviously, they never voted on it.”

But according to Fouts, as long as the Redistricting Commission has three people, they can move forward and vote.

According to Green, another explanation as to why no citizens were on the commission was that the charter was not in effect and the Redistricting Commission had no authority in this matter.   

“The charter is null and void in this instance. The Redistricting Commission has no decision-making authority on this matter so they don’t have to comply with the charter,” said Green.  “State law dictates if there are wards in a city, and Warren has wards, the Home Rule City Act supersedes the charter and the legislative body is the sole authority.

“The charter doesn’t apply whatsoever here, that’s why we had to go to court,” Green said.

The approved map of Warren’s five City Council districts has districts going from the most northern part of Warren to the most southern part, while the map favored by some residents had split the northernmost and southernmost parts of Warren in east-west squares.

“I think the new map meets the requirements of the law.  It reapportions things equally,” said Green.

Some residents contend the new map may not represent residents south of Interstate 696, where the demographic has a greater concentration of minorities and those less affluent.

“When you talk about a responsibility to your district, it is the entire district, not just north, south, east and west,” Green said.  “There is no perfect map. No matter what map is picked there will always be disagreements.”