The College Park City Council discussed a possible redistricting of the city before the 2020 census at its weekly meeting Tuesday night.
City manager Scott Somers advised the council against redistricting between now and the upcoming census, given that the city will likely have to redistrict again afterward.
District 3 Councilman John Rigg originally proposed the idea of the city redistricting before the census, but he did not take part in the council’s discussion, as he was unable to attend the meeting due to a work trip.
“You’ve got one election between now and the next … requirement to do redistricting,” Somers said. But it would be “quite a bit of work … to do a midterm redistricting when right on the heels of getting that in place, you’re going to be required to do a redistricting once the 2020 census is complete.”
The city must apportion itself into four council districts and review its council districts “not less than once every 10 years as soon as feasible after the decennial federal census figures are published,” according to the city charter.
Somers recommended that city officials prepare for redistricting, but wait until after the census to enact it, given that redistricting before the census may not be the best use of time.
“One of the main things we wanted to make sure we understood and knew … was the fact that there was going to be massive growth in the city within certain districts,” District 3 Councilman Robert Day said. “That has happened and it’s something that needs to be addressed.”
Rigg pointed to off-campus housing options for University of Maryland students such as The Varsity and Landmark apartment buildings, as well as the expansion of The View, which didn’t exist during the 2010 census , and thus weren’t previously counted.
“I support the idea of, if not redistricting before the 2020 census numbers are in, at least having a really good understanding of how many more residents there are now in the 2020 census period relative to 2010 and … where they live,” he said.
Rigg said in his view, redistricting boils down to the issue of representation.
“In a representative democracy like the city of College Park, we want all residents to have roughly the same representation on city council as expressed as a ratio of number of residents to city council member,” he said. “If you’ve had a substantial amount of population growth in one district or two districts, then that means those residents are in a very real sense underrepresented on the council.”
While Day said he doesn’t see redistricting happening before the next census, he added that “we will have a clear understanding of the direction we want to go in, and I think that’s the key thing.”
But not all members of the council consider redistricting a priority.
“I am not in favor of doing a midterm redistricting at all,” District 1 Councilwoman Kate Kennedy said. “We should focus more on the census and make sure everyone is counted in the city … [but] we can look at the data and tee up the next redistricting effort after the census.”
Rigg said as a new council member — he was elected to his seat in November — he isn’t sure what redistricting preparation would look like, beyond analytical tasks such as understanding local growth that has occurred in recent years.
“Redistricting strikes me as something that’s sort of fundamental to representative democracy, so it’s something that we need to actually pay more attention to,” he said.