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Redistricting back in S.L. County Council's court

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 30 2011 5:45 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake County Council unanimously accepted the recommendations of the county's first independent Redistricting Commission Tuesday, which included two maps that draw a long-time county councilman out of his district.

The Republican District 3 councilman, David Wilde, did not comment on the recommendations. Nor did District 4 Councilwoman Jani Iwamoto, a Democrat who is also affected by the recommendations because the shift in council district boundaries would place Wilde's residence in her district.

County Council Chairman Max Burdick said the council would take time to digest the commission's recommendations before acting on them. The recommendations of the commission — made up of three Republicans, three Democrats and one independent — are advisory. The County Council has until Dec. 31 to adopt new boundaries for the council and the Granite, Canyon and Jordan school districts.

"After nine months, I feel like we're giving birth to something and we're handing it off," said Tim Chambless, redistricting commission co-chairman and a professor of political science at the University of Utah.

Chambless described the experience of serving on the first independent commission "an honor."

"It's one thing to be in a classroom and talk about this and another to be a citizen participant" he said.

Chairwoman Janice Auger Rasmussen said the commission took its work seriously,  pointing to a large stack of documents it used to guide its deliberations.

The group was also aided by computer modeling that enabled it to shift boundaries and have immediate information about census numbers, ethnic populations and other communities of interest.

"We had a terrific advantage. We had, for the first time, technology that was not available to us before," Rasmussen said. "I became a real believer watching this tool work."

The commission essentially rubber-stamped proposals by the Granite, Jordan and Canyons school districts for school board precincts. School boards are close to their constituents and probably the best arbiters of what would serve their patrons' interests, Rasmussen said.

"The bottom line is we think they got it right and we're passing that along to you as our recommendation," she said, noting it had forwarded two proposals by the Granite District for the County Council's consideration.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said the nonpartisan commission presented three viable options; a true demonstration of working for people, not politics.”

Rasmussen said the Redistricting Commission stood fast on its ground rules, one of which prohibited "ex parte lobbying."

"I don't believe there was any caucusing or lobbying for positions that wasn’t done in the public meetings. That's another thing I'm very proud of," she said.

Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw thanked the group for its work and commented on its final report. "It's very untainted. We have a great product to work with on the council side and hopefully, we'll be equally as fair on the decision-making side." 

Councilman Jim Bradley said he believes the work of the county Redistricting Commission was a "good, good model for other governments to do this."

Meanwhile, the Utah Citizens Counsel is urging the Salt Lake County Council to adopt one of three county level maps created by the county's first independent Redistricting Commission.

The UCC, which has advocated for an independent redistricting commission at the state level, praised Salt Lake County's Redistricting Commission "for modeling a balanced, fair, independent and nonpolitically driven redistricting process."

The Redistricting Commission members include Republicans Cort Ashton, Barbara Thomas and Rasmussen; Democrats Dennis Alexander, Christopher Katis and Chambless and independent Julio Garcia.

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Redistricting Commission's proposals for County Council districts

Proposal 1 has the least amount of changes and has more of a regular shape than the existing plan and the boundaries. This proposal is the least responsive to communities of interest and has the most irregularly shaped boundaries of the three proposals.

Proposal 2 is the most responsive to communities of interest. Cities are not split by more than two districts and no district represents more than four cities.

Proposal 3, the Redistricting Commission's preferred plan, balances the county by evenly distributing the population into three west-side districts and three east districts and creates symmetrical and regularly shaped boundaries using major streets and physical features. This proposal acknowledges the westward shift in population and balances the geography. 

Source: Salt Lake County Mayor's Office

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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