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Peoria’s recent redistricting was a process of the people

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The city of Peoria recently completed a mid-decade redistricting of its City Council districts to equalize populations, as required by its city code, after the city’s 2015 special census.

The City Council directed staff to form an in-house redistricting team to manage the process, and authorized hiring a consultant to assist the team. Our company, Research Advisory Services, won that competitive bid.

Tony Sissons

Tony Sissons

The City Council insisted that the process allow Peoria residents to have a meaningful voice; that the city should do more than just give lip-service to public input. As the process developed, that ambition was solidly fulfilled.

The city accepted our proposal to give Peoria residents access to our free online resident redistricting application. Users were encouraged to “play” with the application (which also worked on smartphones) but to be sure to register with an email address to save or submit a plan.

Early in the process, at a study session, the City Council adopted redistricting criteria:  to the extent practicable, equal populations, compliance with the Voting Rights Act, compact and contiguous districts, age-restricted communities to be in separate districts, and a preference not to out-district any current council member.

The redistricting page on the city’s website, other social media avenues, and newspaper ads and articles, all in English and Spanish, spelled out the process, its timing, the redistricting criteria, a glossary of redistricting terms, copies of presentations made to the City Council, and a YouTube video illustrating and inviting use of the online redistricting application.

Six open-house meetings allowed residents to examine process displays, watch the video, and talk with the redistricting team. Some visitors expected to see plans, but were assured that no plans had been prepared at that point in the process.

Peoria residents had 45 days to submit proposed redistricting plans for consideration. After the February 28 cutoff, the city team and consultants scored each plan by objectively measuring observance of the council’s adopted criteria.  Only the lead consultant knew the identity of each submitter.

Residents, including three council members, submitted a total of 39 plans. After the scoring session, five highly compliant plans were presented to the City Council, which authorized a second round of open houses to display the plans for public comment. The city website and other media displayed the “finalist” plans and asked for public comment.

On May 2, 2017, the Peoria City Council held its adoption hearing. The city attorney explained that a simple majority was required to adopt a plan. Discussion among council members was far-ranging, often referring to written comments from residents submitted at open-house meetings or by email to the city clerk. One by one, three plans were discussed and eliminated from consideration by council consensus. Then a motion was made to adopt one of the two remaining plans. That motion passed five votes to two.

As the lead consultant, I can attest that the adopted plan was submitted by a resident. This is how it ought to be – districts belong to the electorate, not to elected officials or political parties. The city of Peoria’s exemplary process shows how redistricting should be done!

— Tony Sissons is president and owner of Research Advisory Services Inc. in Phoenix.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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