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December 3, 2012

Redistricting plan voted down by New Albany council

$300,000 approved for street department

NEW ALBANY — Though the measure passed on initial readings, the New Albany City Council voted down a redistricting measure Monday on the final ballot.

The ordinance would have established new district parameters, however it would not have pitted any current council members against each other in the 2015 municipal election.

But those who opposed the plan said the ordinance split too many precincts in an effort to even up the population numbers and could confuse the voters who would be moved to a new district.

The proposal called for five precincts to be split.

“It’s the number of people that are being moved” not just the precincts, Councilman Scott Blair said. “It’s going to be confusing to the voters the way the plan is devised.”

The measure failed 5-4 with Councilmen Dan Coffey, Greg Phipps, Pat McLaughlin, John Gonder and Blair voting against it.

Along with Shirley Baird and Kevin Zurschmiede, Gonder is an At-large member of the council. At-large races are decided by all voters, so Gonder said he wanted the six council members that represent districts to decide what path to take.

Floyd County Clerk Linda Moeller credited council attorney Matt Lorch for his work on the plan, but when asked by council members, said no clerk wants to deal with split precincts because it can confuse voters and election workers.  

But Zurschmiede — who was on the council committee charged with forming the plan — said the council isn’t responsible for informing the voters on their precincts.

The council’s constitutional responsibility is to redistrict within two years of a U.S. Census, and the body only has until Dec. 31 to have a plan approved, he continued. The aim is to create districts with limited deviation in numbers and that’s what the plan accomplished, Zurschmiede added.

New Albany has been sued in the past to redistrict properly, though a 2007 lawsuit never received a ruling as the council and plaintiffs reached an agreement to try and settle their differences out of court.

However a plan proposed by a redistricting committee in 2008 was voted down by the council. Ultimately, the 2011 municipal election was decided in districts formed in a 2007 plan that many of the lawsuit plaintiffs objected to.

The 2007 plan included deviations as great as 518 voters per district. Zurschmiede said the proposal voted down by the council Monday greatly diminished the number of deviations per district.  

“I think we’ve got an excellent plan. I don’t want to be sued again. I don’t want to go through this again,” Zurschmiede said.

But Coffey countered that voter deviations aren’t the only standard when considering districts.  He suggested the council consider using the same district maps it currently has, though a definitive answer as to whether his proposal is legal wasn’t given.

Zurschmiede vowed that he would not serve on another redistricting committee. He said he’s spent several hours and attended numerous meetings over the years to work on redistricting plans only to have them voted down by the council.

Though the county plans to use voting centers beginning in 2014, Moeller said there will still be precinct lines.

County commissioners are the only officials allowed to vote to change precinct lines and may do so at the request of a municipality.

It might have been difficult, but Zurschmiede said council members had spoken with county commissioners and they agreed they could make the proposed plan work even with the precinct splits if it had been approved.

Appropriations approved

An appropriation of $127,200 primarily for gasoline expenses was approved for the police department on final reading Monday.

The council also unanimously approved on the final ballot a $300,000 appropriation to shore up the street department budget and $125,000 toward the purchase of a new fire truck.

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