I’m writing to express my concern about the proposal to amend our town charter to create wards at the village boundary. Don’t get me wrong: I believe wards would be a better way to go forward. However, the proposal has some effects we should avoid.

Drawing the ward boundaries on the village line will inevitably become illegal. Under various court decisions, all our wards must have approximately the same population. “One Person, One Vote.” At the moment, yes, the TOV and village are approximately the same size. However, that won’t always be true. At that point, we can anticipate a six-figure lawsuit. Which we will lose.

  • There is a way to prevent such a lawsuit: adding a redistricting provision. However, the current proposal doesn’t have one. As the population distribution of the town changes, by law, we’ll need to redraw the lines. However, redistricting is preventedby the current proposal. Charter changes are for permanent things; ward boundaries cannot be permanent.

Further, I don’t believe the village boundary is the right line anyway. I bet the needs of Pinewood are close to those of Kiln Road residents in the village. I bet condo dwellers off Maple Street have similar needs to condo dwellers on Susie Wilson. I bet renters across from Rocky’s, and renters at the end of the Circ have a lot in common. I don’t believe geography is destiny. I don’t believe the village boundary is what divides us.

A better approach would be to create an effective, legal, ward system with a redistricting provision.

I worked to gather signatures for a ballot measure in Austin, Texas on this topic. As a result, the city is now drawn into ten same-population wards by an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC). Members of the commission cannot be politicians, nor have been politicians for the last 10 years.

After each census, that independent commission re-draws Austin’s wards. Their task is basically to follow the law: “Each council district shall have reasonably equal population with other districts, except where deviation is required to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.” [Austin City Charter, § 3 (E) (1).]

I believe that adopting a system like Austin’s would

  • follow the law
  • allow our wards to change as parts of the town grow at different rates
  • spread our representatives around the whole town
  • therefore increasing the responsiveness of our elected officials
  • prevent Essex from fighting about the same thing for another generation

Don’t gerrymander Essex. Vote against this proposal on Town Meeting Day. Then, let’s work together to create a ward system with an ICRC.

Brian Shelden

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