Proposed changes would make Youngstown wards’ population more balanced

By David Skolnick


Most members of city council are agreeable to a proposal that redraws the seven wards as long as a few changes are made.

But council members said Wednesday that they want more time to review the proposed new boundaries before making any decisions.

Thomas Finnerty, associate director of Youngstown State University’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies, proposed two maps — one based on census numbers and the other largely based on census numbers but without splitting voting precincts.

While no commitments were made, council members discussed the first map more than the second.

City council needs to redistrict the seven wards to make the population of each more equitable.

The population ranges from 7,117 in the South Side’s 6th Ward to 12,130 in the West Side’s 4th Ward, according to the 2010 census, which reported 66,982 residents in Youngstown.

Council hasn’t redistricted in 30 years.

Finnerty said the current wards are so “out of whack” that if someone sued the city over it, that person would win.

The goal of a new redistricted map, he said, is to make each ward’s population as close to 9,569 as possible, give or take no more than 10 percent.

Both maps accomplish that with the first map having the population range from 9,548 in the 4th — currently the most populous ward — to 9,617 in 7th Ward, which includes the southeast portion of the city.

Council wants to have the new lines finalized in time for the 2015 election.

The YSU maps make the wards more compact, shrinking the size of the more populous wards — 4th, 5th and 7th — and expanding the four others. The maps also keep the racial make-ups of the wards with the three more populous wards staying predominantly white and the four others remaining strongly black.

The most significant change is to the 1st Ward, which currently represents downtown as well as a large portion of the northeast and even a piece of the West Side.

The proposed maps would reduce much of the 1st Ward’s northeast presence and expand it into the southeast.

A major change is the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, a private prison of about 2,000 inmates, would be taken out of the 1st Ward and moved into the 2nd Ward. Prisoners are counted in census data meaning about 3 percent of the city’s population are federal prisoners who cannot vote.

Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, said she doesn’t like either proposed map. “I’m running all over the place now, and this is even more spread out,” she said.

“The 1st and 2nd are spread out because no one lives there,” Finnerty responded. He added that the 1st Ward was “drawn incredibly bad” after the 1980 census.

Councilman Paul Drennen, D-5th, asked Finnerty to draw a map with five wards with the possibility of having two at-large council members. Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, agreed that he would like to review such a map.

But Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th, strongly objected to the proposal saying, “The people already spoke” about wanting seven wards in a charter amendment last November, she said.

Drennen said residents weren’t given the option to reduce the number of wards in last year’s election.

The redistricting amendment calls for changes to the wards after a “reasonable population change,” though that phrase isn’t specific.

“I’d like to see what five wards look like,” Swierz said.

Drennen and Swierz are the only council members interested in discussing council at-large seats.

Finnerty said he could design a map with five wards.

Council is tentatively set to have another meeting to discuss redistricting Aug. 26.