Reapportionment panel must decide where to draw the voting lines

Tall order for borough committee

Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2001

Knowing where to draw the line is not easy.

Just ask members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough's reapportionment committee who have been hard at it since May 10 and are focused on a June 28 deadline.

Just as the state was required to look at the boundaries for legislative districts to ensure they are approximately equal in population following the 2000 census, the borough also must look at its assembly districts to make sure each assembly district contains approximately the same number of people.

According to Borough Clerk Linda Murphy, the census identified the borough's population at 49,691.

"If we kept a nine-member borough assembly, then that number would be 5,521 people in each district," said Murphy, adding that the state allows a 5 percent margin, resulting in district populations ranging from 5,245 to 5,797.

Selecting reapportionment committee members from across the peninsula was important to Assembly President Tim Navarre.

"I sure didn't want any issues unbalanced," he said of the 11-member committee. "I tried to cover all the bases as fairly and equitably as I could."

Navarre co-chairs the committee with Betty Glick, a former assembly member who was chosen because of her involvement with reapportionment 10 years ago. The day Navarre asked her to serve on the committee, Glick was sorting through 25 years worth of paper work that documented her involvement in city and borough issues.

"It was almost designed," she said of Navarre's call." If he had called the next day, it would have all been in the recycle bin."

Glick said modern technology has done wonders for deciding where to draw assembly district boundaries.

"When we did this 10 years ago, we sat there with pencil and paper and added and subtracted and divided and that was how we worked," she said.

Of this recent experience, Glick said, "The computer actually drew the lines. We didn't draw them to benefit this person or that person. The computer drew the lines based on the census-designated places so it was really quite amazing."

However, being responsive to community interest to maintain existing boundaries has resulted in the committee doing some fine-tuning.

"But when you begin to adjust figures, it creates a domino effect," Glick said. "You have to make adjustments somewhere."

Glick anticipates that on June 28 the committee will have two or three options to present to the borough assembly.

"My assessment is that we'll recommend a nine-district representation with some minor adjustments to the lines," she said of a plan based on current districts. "And then we're also looking at an 11-(district) or a 13-(district) assembly."

The public will have an opportunity to express comments on the various plans at assembly meetings prior to the Oct. 2 ballot. Changes would take effect next year.

"I personally would hope that the assembly will put two different proposals before the people on which to vote," Glick said.

Committee member Marion Nelson said drawing lines "ends up being as much a philosophical and political decision in terms of communities as it does a geographic one. We are all very interested in trying to maintain the integrity of the communities in terms of where the lines are drawn, but there are a lot of influences on where those lines are drawn."

John Kistler, from Kalifornsky Beach, used one word to describe the reapportionment process -- "frustrating." In particular, he expressed frustration with open meeting laws that limit communication between committee members.

"If two of us get together, we can't talk about actual reapportionment," he said. "When people like me attend borough assembly meetings, there's a real fine line between discussing assembly business and what personal

opinions are because of three committee members sitting there. I can't go up and talk to them about that subject. It's a real headache."

Besides Navarre, assembly members Pete Sprague, of Soldotna, and Milli Martin, of Homer, are also on the reapportionment committee.

On the positive side, Kistler said that everything the committee does is within the public's view.

"Nothing can possibly happen behind closed doors," he said.

Sandra Wassilie was selected for the committee for two reasons. Not only is she from Seward, Wassilie also serves on the borough school board. She said she has enjoyed seeing how the peninsula's population has changed and hearing how people see themselves in terms of their communities.

"People want their space, but they want their representation, too," she said.

The reapportionment committee meets today and June 28 at 2 p.m. in Conference Rooms A and B at the Borough Administration Building in Soldotna.

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