Redistricting Can Bring Positive Change–Or Not

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In a special meeting scheduled for tonight (Thursday, Nov. 17th at 6:30pm) the Ferguson City Council will be taking up discussion of the proposed Redistricting of the three wards of Ferguson. A Redistricting Commission, appointed by the Mayor, met and worked to create this proposal. A public hearing was previously held, and two comments were submitted and are included in the packet for the Council. Both comments invoke neighborhoods as the reason to disagree with the proposed new boundaries which will adjust to even out varying population totals in each ward as found in the 2020 census.

While there may be an inclination to go by established neighborhoods, especially those with associations which meet, this is not a viable approach to redistricting. Redistricting uses census blocks which are bound by streets or by other visible boundaries such as streams or railroads. Neighborhood boundaries, on the other hand, often include full streets of homes which face each other and whose residents regularly see each other, although each side of the street are often in different census blocks. This basic difference, along with the goal of having close to even numbers of residents in each district, make it impossible to have each neighborhood within only one City Ward.  

Within our current district boundaries, we have eight neighborhoods which are fully within one single ward. Four are split between two wards and one neighborhood, Old Ferguson East, has residents who reside within all three wards. Under the proposed redistricting, one block of Robert Superior Neighborhood would be split from the rest of the neighborhood and moved from Ward 1 to Ward 2. This single block is the subject of the comment submitted from Nick Kasoff which suggests that the Commission’s proposal be amended by allowing this block to remain in Ward 1 with the rest of Robert Superior, and instead move blocks in Jeske Park from Ward 1 to Ward 2, as this neighborhood is already split between two wards.

The second comment given to the City Council comprises of a submission stamped as received on 9-30-22 and placed in the pdf file in a random page order. The submission includes a statement from “Concern [sic] neighbors of Northland Hills Subdivision.” This subdivision is recognized by the City of Ferguson’s Neighborhood Map as a part of the Forestwood Neighborhood. The comment to council asserts that Northland Hills should remain in Ward 1 “due to future discussions in reference to becoming a historic district.” There is also a petition with a heading stating that the undersigned disagree with the redistricting proposal and want consideration of the proposal submitted “from Don Stevens and concerned citizens.” However, the justification of those in Northland Hills as needing to remain in Ward 1 for the purposes of a historic district is invalid. There is no requirement for a historic district to be within only one ward. In fact, the City has pursued an evaluation and outsourced a survey of the Old Ferguson East neighborhood—the same neighborhood currently split between all three wards. Simply put, neither the state of Missouri, nor the federal government, have any concern about the boundaries of political jurisdictions in approving applications for designation of historic districts.

Within this same submission is a second petition which is not referenced in the one-page proposal accompanying the two petitions. This petition appears to be from the same source as the Northland Hills petition, but simply states that the undersigned residents of Nesbit-Newton Neighborhood disagree and want no changes from their status as within Ward 1. No reason for the request to remain in Ward 1 is given. At the end of the petition, curiously, the last signature is that of Phedra Nelson, Councilor for Ward 1 which is crossed out. Nelson is not a resident of the neighborhood. It’s concerning to see that Nelson was personally involved with the petitions and proposals. It’s also concerning that the person submitting the petitions and proposal to keep these neighborhoods in Ward 1 is a well-known friend of Councilor Nelson and Mayor Ella Jones.

We feel the disagreement of these two neighborhoods with the Commission have no basis. Rather, the refusal to make the changes proposed by the Commission would have these residents lose out on an opportunity to create synergy by having a more focused approach to representation for the residents living along the West Florissant Corridor. Currently, residents are split between two wards. The Commission’s proposal will bring them together in Ward 3 while work on the West Florissant Great Streets is coming to fruition. Consolidating this area under one ward would allow the two councilors representing the Third Ward to focus on the needs of this corridor as new development opportunities come from improving the accessibility to West Florissant.

We hope that the personal involvement of Councilor Nelson, and the lead of a resident who is also friend and political supporter in gathering names on petitions to reject the change in redistricting have nothing to do with a possible attempt to gerrymander the boundaries of our city’s wards. At the least, it’s a shame to see energy being expended by citizens interested in creating a historic district on a petition and cause that has no bearing on achieving their goal.

Tonight, we hope to see leadership from our elected officials that will work to improve the city for the good of all residents.  This opportunity to change the ward boundaries can create the best possible scenario for the West Florissant corridor by consolidating and focusing work on the area. We need to see our Councilors step up and instead of collecting petitions against change, connect interested residents to the resources that can help them to successfully make positive changes.