Youngstown council has endorsed a ward redistricting map

By David Skolnick


After on-again, off-again discussion about redistricting Youngstown’s seven wards, city council has come to an agreement.

The settlement came Wednesday during a sometimes heated meeting in which council members made a few minor tweaks to a map of the wards proposed by the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

“This council’s been going on a year with this,” said council President Charles Sammarone during the meeting.

Raising his voice, Sammarone said, “It’s not brain surgery.”

After further discussion, council members said they were satisfied with the map after a few adjustments.

Joyce Kale-Pesta, elections board director, said she can have a final map to council by today.

The map largely follows the one the board proposed July 8.

Council will vote on the new map at a special meeting at noon Monday.

Council members first talked about redistricting June 21, 2013, more than seven months after city voters approved a charter amendment about redistricting.

The city is supposed to redistrict after every 10-year U.S. census but hasn’t done so for more than 30 years.

A new map would be in place for the 2015 council races and would take effect after that year’s election.

The population in the wards currently range from 7,227 to 12,130, using 2010 census numbers.

The election board’s proposal has ward populations ranging from 9,146 in the 5th Ward on the lower West Side to 9,334 in the 1st Ward, which would take in the central part of the city and a portion of the East Side.

Using an average population of 9,272 per ward, the board’s map had a difference of about 2 percent from the average. The wards are supposed to be no different than 10 percent of the average.

With the changes, the 4th Ward, which includes the upper West Side, would become the city’s most populous with about 9,600 residents. The 3rd Ward on the North Side would have the least population, with about 9,000 residents.

There’s a difference of about 6.5 percent in population between the least-populous and most- populous wards.

Each council member, including the four who cannot run for re-election next year because of term limits, remains in their current ward.

Among the changes made Wednesday was retaining the city’s upper northwest area, largely industrial, in the 4th Ward. The board map had moved that area to the 3rd Ward.

Also, the 7th Ward will keep an area around Poland Avenue that had been proposed to be moved to the 2nd Ward.

The 4th and the 5th Wards swapped small areas on the West Side, one is around South Schenley Avenue and the other is around Price Road and Wilkinson Avenue.

Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, had wanted her ward expanded north to the city line in the Hubbard Road, Thorn Hill Road and Victor Avenue area.

But that would have removed about 842 people from the 2nd Ward, making that ward’s population too small.

Despite initial opposition from at least three of seven council members, this map doesn’t count the 2,071 prisoners at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center on the East Side in the city’s population.

About 75 percent of that prison’s population is illegal immigrants convicted of federal felonies.

The board’s map does include 541 inmates at the Ohio State Penitentiary, also on the East Side, with nearly all its inmates being maximum-security prisoners not from Youngstown, and the 438 prisoners at the Mahoning County jail downtown, with a majority being city residents.

Gillam had been an outspoken supporter of counting all prisoners in the ward redistricting.

The area she wanted added into her ward includes the private prison.

At the meeting, Gillam initially said she didn’t object to not counting the inmates, saying, “We might lose that prison, and I don’t want to have to do this over again.”

She then reversed her position before finally agreeing to not count the private-prison inmates.

It was after Gillam changed her mind the first time that Sammarone raised his voice, saying no map was perfect and that it would be impossible to please all seven council members.

If council approves the map Monday, Youngstown would be only the second city in Ohio — Lima is the other — that doesn’t count at least a portion of its prisoners when redistricting.

Law Director Martin Hume said council has its choice, but he recommended not counting the private-prison inmates.

Meanwhile, a group is gathering signatures to get a charter amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot to reduce the number of wards based on population. If the proposal gets on the ballot and is approved, the city would have five council members.