Why did Council Hold ANOTHER Special Meeting on Redistricting?
The ongoing redistricting debacle/saga continued on 11/16/22. The reason for THIS meeting was that Council intended on announcing a first reading of a redistricting ordinance at the 11/10 Council meeting. However, as has been the case throughout this redistricting charade, they were AGAIN unorganized, and they did not have their ducks in a row. They needed to have a vote on the 1st reading sometime in November in order to ram through their plan before the end of the year, hence the special meeting.
What happened at the 11/10 Council Meeting that Led to a Special Meeting on 11/16?
At the 11/10 Council meeting, Councilman Else gave a presentation where he introduced his newest criteria for determining how Council should evaluate which map should be selected for the ordinance reading. At this time he introduced a NEW MAP (he called Option 6) which was NOT EVEN PART of the nearly 3-week public commentary process and had never been shared with the public before that night! He claimed this new Map 6 was based off existing Map 4, but with some revisions based on public input. (Interesting to note, as Map 4 was not one of the favored maps in the public comment farce).
Mr. Else made a motion to announce the first reading of the ordinance using this new map Option 6, but the audience noticed that what he proposed as map Option 6 on the screen he was sharing looked different than the map Option 6 that was taped to the wall!!! The audience asked WHICH Option 6 they were voting on, and Council could not answer. It was very clear that other Council members did not know the details of this new map proposal (or really, any of the maps!) so they could not say which was the correct Option 6 - the one displayed on the screen or the one displayed on the wall!
Despite not knowing which map was the 'real' #6, Ms. Peterson wanted to go ahead with the vote anyway. EVEN THOUGH COUNCIL AND THE AUDIENCE DID NOT KNOW WHAT MAP THEY WERE VOTING ON!! Mr. Akarsoy counter-motioned to table the vote for a week (UNTIL 11/16) so that Council could figure out which map was the real Option 6 that they were voting on. Mr. Else withdrew his motion and Mr. Akarsoy's motion to table until 11/16 passed, with Ms. Peterson voting against the motion to table the vote.
What Options Did Council Have to Consider Prior to the 11/16 Special Meeting?
At the 11/10 meeting, Township resident and former Councilman Steve Visek proposed that Council move forward with Map option #3 for now, since it is by far the least disruptive of the options under consideration (moving a few hundred people versus the thousands proposed to move in maps 1, 2, 4, 5 and now 6) and that Council form an impartial citizen committee to create a methodology, approach, and options to be reviewed and voted on in 2023 and go in effect in 2024. This approach would allow Council to balance the districts for 2023 elections and fine tune, if needed, for 2024+.
A petition with nearly 400 resident signatures supporting the creation of a citizen redistricting committee to be responsible for developing redistricting recommendations, WITH A FOCUS ON MINIMAL DISRUPTION was also presented to Council.
Mr. Visek's proposal and the petition both seemed to fall on deaf ears. Council made it clear that they planned to ram through Map 6 (once they figured out which version of the map they were actually voting on), which is a massively disruptive plan that was created by a sitting Councilman who is up for reelection and will disrupt 1/3 of the Township residents (especially in the 4th - people who vote at the District Court - where 66% of the residents will be booted out of Mr. Akarsoy's district and into a new district in the year that he is up for reelection) when all that really needed to be done to balance the districts is to move less than 5% of the residents.
What Actually Transpired at the 11/16 Special Meeting?
Ten residents asked to speak in public forum. A few thanked Council for undertaking a difficult and thankless job. However, the majority of feedback came from residents who expressed frustration, anger, outrage, and dismay with the way the entire redistricting process was handled from the outset and the complete lack of public input into Map 6, which Council noted it was considering at the 11/10 meeting. Council, in particular Council members Akarsoy and Else, were chastised for the disdain and lack of respect they showed Township residents throughout the process when residents expressed concerns about the optics of the process (aka maps created by a sitting Councilman up for re-election), the proposed plans, and the widespread disruption they would cause. Also, concerns were raised about the constantly changing evaluation criteria (first population distribution was paramount then "compactness" was king then cohesion was crafted, with little to no concern for disruption) and the lack of transparency with the public. Council was again asked to accept Proposal 3 (the least disruptive) for now and form a Citizen's committee to create district map options and they were reminded of the nearly 400 residents who signed a petition supporting this approach.
After Public Forum, Council opened discussion on the matter of redistricting. Councilman McFadden noted his support of moving forward with Option 3 because it was the least disruptive. Ms. Rexing was offered the opportunity to speak and presented another new map!!YUP, that is right! AFTER public comment and, again, with ZERO PUBLIC REVIEW, Council put forth another last-minute new map, which they called Map 8!! Ms. Rexing claimed Map 8 was based off of Map 5 with revisions based on public comment for cohesion (no mention of disruption). But wait, didn't Mr. Else note at the last meeting that his new Map 6 was based off Map 4 based on public comment? And at the last meeting, wasn't the public left to believe that the 11/16 Special meeting was to vote on Map 6 , once Council figured out which map 6 was the correct map? But now a new Map 8 was presented instead? Public outcry over this late-in-the-game bait and switch was promptly shut down by Councilman Akarsoy since Public Forum had concluded, despite the fact that the public had NO IDEA that Council was going to throw in a new map at the last second and not give them an opportunity to review or comment on it. Indeed, a couple of clarifying questions were permitted, but Council closed their ears to ANY opposition on the newly disclosed map!
Mr. Else made the motion to move forward with the first reading of the redistricting ordinance to include the never-before-seen MAP 8! The motion passed 4-1 with Mr. McFadden dissenting.
After the vote, Mr. Akarsoy apologized to the audience for his inappropriate and explosive reaction to comments that were made during public forum that did not support his point of view. Mr. Else made no apologies for his behavior for clapping in Public Forum for people who supported his point-of-view, basically signaling that his mind was already made up, and smug-smirking at people who did not.
Note: Ms. Rexing claimed that Map 8 was based off of Map 5 with some modifications based on public comments about wanting to have cohesive communities. HOWEVER, it is clear from the public comment sent into the Township (that are posted on the website) and from live public comment at Council meetings, that Map 3 was, by far in a way, the most favored map - primarily due to its minimal disruption. Public comment has REPEATEDLY focused on minimal disruption, yet Council continues to ignore this, instead focusing on some phantom measure of 'cohesion'. Why were public comments and input about NOT WANTING DISRUPTION completely ignored and credence only given to the handful of residents who wrote about cohesive communities (many of whom also asked for little disruption)? Additionally, the PRIMARY goal of redistricting is to evenly distribute the population as practicable and this new proposal is the least practicable of ALL the proposalsvetted, leaving the 3rd district short of the target goal by nearly 100 residents!! So why is Council giving more weight to neighborhood cohesiveness than to evenly distributing the population (which is supposed to be the primary goal of redistricting!) and lack of disruption. Based on the public input that is posted on the Township website, Map 3 got more 'votes' than maps 1, 2, 4, and 5 combined and map 8 got no votes since it was never opened for public input. Why is Council claiming that map 5 had the most 'votes' when this is clearly not the case? THIS IS WHY A COMMITTEE OF CITIZENS SHOULD BE DETERMINING THE RULES AND GUIDELINES FOR REDISTRICTING AND NOT A SITTING COUNCIL MEMBER WHO IS LOOKING OUT FOR HIS OWN GOOD! The fact that Council moved forward with a highly disruptive map that no one had ever seen or commented on and completely ignored and did not even acknowledge the majority public feedback requesting as little disruption as possible (including nearly 400 signatures on a petition) suggests that the entire public input process was nothing more than a farce and a charade. THE RESIDENTS OF UPPER PROVIDENCE TOWNSHIP WERE DUPED BY THE PEOPLE ELECTED TO REPRESENT US! WE DESERVE BETTER!!
Next Steps - Now What?
Council will need to have a second reading on the ordinance at their next Council meeting on December 19, where they will likely vote and pass map 8 as the new districts for the Township. That said, we can still make our voices heard! If enough residents are opposed to this process and what has transpired throughout this redistricting debacle, and the resulting disruption it will cause, we can still make a case for blocking its adoption. But we need your voice!
Please email your thoughts/concerns to Township Manager, Don Vymazal: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign our online petition demanding the formation of an impartial citizen group to create guidelines and map recommendations: https://chng.it/kpYP5cFnj6