Last Wednesday, Bloomington’s redistricting advisory commission voted to recommend a set of new population-balanced districts for the city council, which would be used starting with the 2023 city elections.
This Wednesday morning (Sept. 7), the advisory commission is set to take a vote on the report that will be forwarded to the city council for its consideration.
Based on its current schedule, the city council could—if it set its collective mind to it—take a vote to adopt or reject the new map and report as soon as the regular council meeting that is set for Sept. 21.
But under the city’s redistricting ordinance, the council could wait almost six weeks, until Nov. 1, to adopt or reject the advisory commission’s map.
Still, the current lull—between last week’s departmental budget presentations and the first reading of the final 2023 budget set for Sept. 28—makes for a perfect time for the city council to give the recommended map an up-or-down vote.
If the map were adopted on Sept. 21, that would serve the public interest, because potential city council candidates in the 2023 elections would know as soon as possible what geographic area they would represent. That goes for incumbents and challengers alike.
If the map were rejected on Sept. 21, that would still serve the public interest. That’s because it would mean punting the new map back to the redistricting advisory commission for further consideration. On that scenario, the advisory commission would have until Dec. 1 to forward a second recommendation—possibly the same one—to the council.
So an earlier-instead-of-later rejection would give the advisory commission more time to consider the council’s reasons for rejecting the recommended map. If the council does not want to adopt the recommended map, then it’s reasonable to give the advisory commission as much time as possible for reconsideration.
More time is reasonable, because the council has managed to deprive the redistricting commission appointees of significant time that they were actually supposed to get to do their work. The council was supposed to seat the commission in January 2021, but did not make the appointments until mid-June of this year—about 18 months late.
While the council might blame its late appointments on the lack of an adequate applicant pool, the dearth of applicants was caused by a poorly crafted ordinance. Without getting into the weeds too much, the ordinance imposed eligibility conditions that excluded groups who might have made a valuable contribution, and mandated inclusion of groups who seemed to have little interest.
There are at least two possible ways to ensure that a Sept. 21 vote is possible on a second reading of the new district map ordinance. The key is to figure out when the first reading can be inserted into the legislative timing.
One way would be to amend the council’s regular meeting agenda for the evening of Sept. 7 to include the new map’s adoption as an item under first readings. That would require council staff to do some intensive work through the day on Wednesday.
Another way would be to call a special meeting, say on Friday this week, just for the purpose of giving the new district map ordinance a first reading. The council already has a work session scheduled for Friday, so adding a special meeting does not seem like too much of a stretch.
Will the council take either of these two easy steps to help ensure that the public interest is served? I don’t think they will.
On the question of redistricting, I think we can anticipate mostly foot dragging by city councilmembers—because the map that the redistricting advisory commission has recommended is a non-starter for them. It’s a non-starter, because two proposed districts are each home to two incumbents. Sue Sgambelluri and Kate Rosenbarger live in one proposed new district. Dave Rollo and Steve Volan live in another proposed district.
I think the only deadline the city council has in mind is the end of the year—by which time, under state law, the council must act to adopt new districts. In the meantime, they’ll use all the time that the city’s ordinance and state law allow.
So in mid-December, I think they’ll adopt a map that leaves every incumbent in a district of their own.
With any luck, they’ll prove me wrong.