By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Goshen residents will have to wait just a bit longer to learn how the City Council’s new district boundaries will be laid out.
City Council members Tuesday voted to table the second reading and possible adoption of an ordinance establishing new district boundaries within the city — something state statute requires city officials to do once every 10 years. Council members will revisit the ordinance during their April 9 meeting.
Passage of the new district boundaries has not been an easy task for the council, with concerns over uneven population variances among districts and the potential for gerrymandering — the redrawing of district lines to suit political parties — making it very difficult to settle on any one particular plan.
The ordinance was initially passed on first reading at the council’s Dec. 4 meeting. However, discussion on the second reading of the ordinance was postponed at the Dec. 27, Jan. 2 and Jan. 15 meetings, each time with the goal of giving council members more time to review the provided options and possibly come up with alternatives.
To date, three redistricting options have been brought before the council for consideration. Those options are as follows:
• Option 1A is the proposal submitted to the council on Jan. 15. Option 1A splits Elkhart Township precincts 12 and 13. The population variance for Option 1A is 14.80 percent.
• Option 2A splits Elkhart Township precincts 1, 8, 11 and 14. The population variance for Option 2A is 2.52 percent.
• Option 4 splits Elkhart Township precincts 5, 8, 11, 14 and 17. The population variance for Option 4 is 1.70 percent.
Vocal in support of delaying the ordinance adoption Tuesday was council member Jim McKee, who informed the council that he would like some additional time to finish putting together a possible fourth option for the council’s consideration at its upcoming April 9 meeting.
“I really don’t want to wait longer, but I would like to postpone it until the 9th, because I have this that I’m working on, and I would like you (Mayor Allan Kauffman and the council) to have an opportunity to take a look at that as well,” McKee said. “I realize we’re late, but then we started late in December, and that’s kind of where we’re at. So I would prefer to postpone it until the 9th of April, and then I’ll get ready to vote.”
Before voting to either pass or table the ordinance, Kauffman invited members of the public to come forward and share their views about the proposed redistricting options.
Among the first to speak was Goshen resident Richard Aguirre. He indicated that above and beyond any concerns over gerrymandering, his biggest concern as a Goshen resident and voter is that the council adopts an ordinance establishing the lowest population variance possible in order to ensure that every vote carry’s the same weight on election day.
“I have not checked any of these plans for how they would affect Democrats or Republicans, and speaking for myself, I really don’t care,” Aguirre said. “The only thing I care about is that the variance be as low as possible, because I want my vote to count as much as the resident of any other district.”
Aguirre noted that he lives in council member Everett Thomas’s district, one of the largest of the city’s five districts, and feels that the current population variance in his district diminishes the value of his vote.
“When his district is as large as it is, I feel I and my fellow residents of that district are disadvantaged,” Aguirre said. “The concept is one person, one vote. That’s what redistricting is supposed to be about. I’m not naive enough to think that politics doesn’t play a role. It always plays a role. But I believe that when government strives to be as close as it can to the people on the municipal level, politics should take a back seat to that. So I was very welcoming of the two (city) staff proposals that were put together that had an extremely low variance, and I’m hoping that the council would consider something with that low of a variance.”
Regardless of what the council eventually decides to adopt, Aguirre said, he recommended that if McKee does come up with a new option for the council to review at its upcoming April 9 meeting, that there be at least some time set aside for concerned Goshen residents like himself to have some time to review it beforehand.
“I know this has been a difficult process for all of you, so I thank you very much for that,” Aguirre said. “I hope you’re focusing on getting it right.”
Also among those speaking Tuesday was Tom Stump, past Goshen City Council member and current County Council member, who urged the council to try and keep the splitting of precinct boundaries to a minimum when reviewing their options for redistricting.
“There are other things that need to be taken into account, such as precinct boundaries,” Stump said. “If you don’t split precincts, people know where they’re going to vote and who represents them. So I would say, one of the things you want to do when you make these council boundaries is you want to split as few precincts and make it as easily understood as possible. And you need to take into account the history of the districts and the wants of the council people are also important in this. So I think it needs more work.”
• The council voted four to three in opposition to passing a proposed amendment to the Building Department Fee Ordinance which would have allowed for an increase in the fees for the registration of each rental dwelling unit, hotel or rooming house in the city of Goshen.
With the amendment, biennial registration for each rental dwelling unit in the city would have been raised to $40, while annual registration for each hotel or rooming house in the city would increase to $75. Council members voting against the amendment were Jim McKee, Edward Ahlersmeyer, Dixie Robinson and Brett Weddell. Voting in favor of the amendment were Julia Gautsche, Everett Thomas and Jeremy Stutsman.
• The council voted to approve an additional appropriation of $300,000 from the Economic Development Income Tax (EDIT) fund to go toward contractual services for the Jefferson Street Reconstruction project.