BURLINGTON — Though no members would call it a perfect map, the City Council on Monday night approved a plan to redraw its own districts, making adjustments to boundaries while maintaining the current eight-ward, four-district configuration.
The resolution heads next to the city attorney’s office for review before the council has a chance to sign off on the proposed changes to the city charter. Voters then would weigh in on the matter on Town Meeting Day in March.
As they debated the matter yet again Monday night, many councilors voiced their exasperation with the process.
“It’s been a long slog to this point,” said Councilor Ben Traverse, D-Ward 5.
The council voted 6-4 in favor of an eight-ward map that left those opposed to it arguing that none of the council’s priorities had been addressed.
“This map just doesn’t do any of the things we set out to do,” said Councilor Zoraya Hightower, P-Ward 1. She also said she thought the new Ward 8 looked “extremely gerrymandered,” which is how some have described the current version of Ward 8.
But those who voted in favor of the new map defended it by saying it more equally distributes University of Vermont’s on-campus student population, which has mostly been part of Ward 8 in recent years.
“It may be somewhat incremental, but it’s significant,” said Councilor Mark Barlow, I-North District.
Following the approval of the ward map, the council then turned its attention to the district configuration. Under the current map, each district includes two wards.
Hightower made a motion to do away with districts entirely and elect two councilors per ward, but some on the council objected, saying the number of districts had been decided in an October meeting. Hightower’s motion was voted on anyway, but failed with five members supporting it and five opposing it.
“I think it’s an embarrassment that this council is taking up an issue that we’ve already debated ad nauseam,” said Councilor Joan Shannon, D-South District.
Following Hightower’s failed motion, the council unanimously approved the current district configuration.
The city is required to draw new electoral maps following the decennial census when the most populous ward has 10% or more people than the least populous ward. Since kicking off the public process by establishing priorities, the council has sought to translate those priorities into actual maps.
Though the council had initially hoped to send voters a redistricting proposal on Town Meeting Day 2022, the council missed that deadline, as well as for November’s general election. It now considers Dec. 12 as its new deadline in order for the measure to make it to voters on Town Meeting Day 2023.
The greatest sticking points in the council’s debate over the various ward map options has been the configuration of Ward 8, which in its current state is made up of mostly on-campus college students and areas with a high population of off-campus students. The current ward has been called the “salamander ward” for its shape, which includes a tail-like feature.
The approved map from the meeting splits students up between Wards 1, 6 and 8. Ward 1 would consist of 33% on-campus students and Ward 6 would have 39%. Ward 8 would keep the highest number of students in any ward at 46%.
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