About 30-40 residents showed for the meeting, about half of whom signed up to speak. The meeting kicked off at 7pm sharp.
Some residents ceded their time to the first speaker, a 3rd district resident and current UPT Planning Commission member, to speak on their behalf. Key points raised by the first speaker were:
In order to more evenly balance the population in UPT, more residents need to be added to the 4th district so that each district has roughly 20% of the population. This can be done by moving as few as 280 residents to be within the 5% variance targeted by Council, rather than the thousands proposed in most of the Council options. Districts 3 and 5 are already at ~20%, so shifting a few residents from Districts 1 and 2 will balance the population.
There are 3 key concernswith the current proposals:
Disruption - Proposals 1, 2, 4, and 5 would move from 22%-31% (2,400-3,300) of Township residents to a new voting district. Proposal 3 and three additional proposals that were never shared with the public (for some reason) would move less than 4% (280-470 residents). Why is so much unnecessary disruption being proposed?
Interestingly, proposals 1, 2, 4, and 5 result in substantial partisan shifts in the direction of the sitting Council member in the 2nd and especially the 4th districts, both of which are up for re-election in 2023. One proposal would shift the 4th district 10 points in favor of the incumbent!
At the September 22 Council meeting, Mr. Else outright admitted to gerrymandering one of his proposed maps. Meeting minutes confirm that Mr. Else admitted he changed a boundary on his initial map to move Councilwoman Peterson from the 5th district, back to the 1st district. Moving a district boundary to accommodate a specific individual, in this case, a councilperson, is the quintessential definition of gerrymandering.
“Compactness” is the red herring of the entire redistricting process that Mr. Else is hiding behind. There are many ways to measure compactness and Mr. Else chose to use the Posby-Popper method for measuring compactness. A shortcoming of this method is that it is very sensitive to convoluted borders, like what exists in UPT. In fact, the entirety of UPT only has a compactness score of 27%!! Using compactness as THE driving factor to evaluate the best way to redistrict UPT is very misguided. Who determines the target compactness for each district in UPT? In most of the proposals, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd districts are made less compact than they currently are to improve the compactness of the 4th and 5th districts. Why is improving compactness in the 4th and 5th the priority? Who set this goal? The goal of redistricting is to balance the population, not to achieve subjective compactness scores.
UPT Council voted to endorse Pennsylvania Fair Districting approach when new congressional and legislative districts were drawn in 2020. This approach calls for an independent committee of citizens to draw unbiased maps that minimize disruption, partisan shift, and keep neighborhoods as whole as possible. Why doesn’t our Township deserve the same, fair, bipartisan approach to redistricting?Ideally, an independent citizen's commission should be appointed to make recommendations, but if the goal is to jam this through before the end of the year, then maps 1, 2, 4, and 5 should not be considered at all, due to the disruption and clear gerrymandering they propose. Proposal 3 and the three additional proposals submitted by residents, but ignored by Council, should be considered instead.
Residents in the audience also ceded time to Mr. Steven Visek, (former Councilman, former Planning Commission, and current resident of the 3rd District).
Mr Visek started by giving a brief history of how the current districts came to be. He pointed out that the last time redistricting was done in the 90's, maps were drawn by an independent citizen committee and then voted on by Council.
Mr. Visek then noted that he was the author of redistricting Proposal 3, which is currently under consideration, as well as two other proposals that were not shared with the public. He questioned why, of the 3 redistricting proposals he submitted, the one he noted was the least preferred, was the only one the Township chose to share with the public.
He also questioned why Council would put so much weight on compactness scores when they were not even reliable, pointing out many errors he uncovered in the charts provided to the public. (Mr. Vymazal was instructed to have the compactness numbers fixed).
Mr. Visek noted that balance across the Township could be achieved moving just 3 census blocks and a couple hundred people. He pointed out that Mr. Else’s proposals moved these same 3 census blocks, but then, for some reason, unnecessarily continued to move many more census blocks. He pointed out that nearly two-thirds of the 4th district would be moved, using any of Mr. Else’s proposals and that the size and composition of the 3rd district in Mr. Else’s proposals would make it very difficult for the current 3rd district councilperson to get reelected.
Additional speakers raised other concerns:
The optics of having a sitting Council person analyze and draw maps was raised as a concern by many residents. In response, Mr. Else said that Council was responsible for and in charge of reviewing population balance every 10 years following the census, and rebalancing districts as needed. In response, residents noted that, while Council may be responsible for overseeing and voting on this, they should not be doing the actual work themselves, especially in isolation with zero input on the methodology and goals. The analysis should be done through an unbiased lens of an independent citizen committee.
response to a resident’s concern about moving so many people to a new voting location, Mr. Else claimed that voting location was a moot point because the County was ‘considering’ increasing the number of voting locations, which 'could' result in 10 voting locations in UPT instead of the current 5. In other words, Mr. Else is of the mindset that disruption of voting locations should not be factored into the current redistricting efforts because of the possibility that maybe the County might increase the number of polling sites someday. Mr. Else did not expand on why something that is a future possibility and not a done deal should be factored into current redistricting efforts.
The timing and rush for pushing through redistricting was raised by many residents. When Mr. Else stated that the Township was required to redistrict every 10 years, one resident challenged him saying, if this was true, why had there been no redistricting in the last 30 years? When Mr. Ewald (Township Solicitor) stated that the redistricting MUST be complete by the end of the year, one resident asked him, if that was true, why the last redistricting happened in 1995, 3 years after the 1991 census was complete. Residents pushed to understand what the rush was to ram through new districts and why this process was not being done in a more organized, inclusive manner and why was it started so late in the year. Their concerns and questions went largely unanswered.
One resident asked Council, if they are so confident that their approach to redistricting was on the up-and-up, why had they budgeted $70K in taxpayer dollars to fight expected redistricting litigation? They pointed out that, if the redistricting process had been approached the right way, there would be no need to fear litigation.
Council was asked how they could possibly consider this process to have included public input when there had been little to no public dialogue in the process. Why was the information from the Open House and online available for Council to review, but not shared with the public? Mr. Vymazal noted that the public comment was added to the Township website at 4:30 that very afternoon – a mere 2.5 hours prior to the start of the meeting, even though public input had ended a week earlier!
Mr. Else did most of the speaking at the meeting, on behalf of Council with Mr. Akarsoy jumping in on occasion. When an audience member asked to hear from the other Council members, Ms. Rexing chimed in that she was comfortable with all of the redistricting proposals because they were “created by the County”. At this point, an audience member jumped in to correct Ms. Rexing, noting that they had filed a right-to-know request with the County for all correspondence between the Township and County regarding redistricting. That documentation confirmed that NONE of the map boundaries were created by the County, as the Township was leading residents (and apparently its own Council members) to believe. Mr. Vymazal jumped in to clarify that indeed, he had provided the County with the boundary configurations for all 5 of the district proposals and the County merely double checked the math, ran some calculations, and used their equipment to draw the maps for the October Open House. Ms. Rexing seemed to be surprised by this admission but did not comment any further.
At the end of the meeting, Mr. Ewald shared that the first reading of the ordinance for the new districts would be at the next Council meeting on Nov. 10. The audience demanded to know what that reading would entail, and which proposal was going to be included in that reading, but they were told that Council would need to wait for the updated calculations for the (meaningless) compactness scores before they could answer that question. The audience was not happy with the response, many noting out loud that this was clearly a mission to ram something through without due diligence.
A resident representing Upper Providence for Fair Districting (UPFFD) provided Mr. Vymazal with copies of a petition signed by roughly 120 residents, demanding that Council reject the current redistricting proposals and start from scratch an, allowing an unbiased, bipartisan group of residents to make recommendations. Originals copies of the petition were not provided at this point because signatures continue to come in.
Despite ongoing attendee engagement and despite Mr. Else not yet presenting some slides he had prepared, Mr. Akarsoy called the meeting to an end at 8:05pm sharp due to the Phillies game.
Take away: It was pretty clear from this 'open discussion' that Mr. Else is the sole and lone driver of the redistricting process. He jumped in to answer almost all of the questions and he was the ONLY Council member to attend the open house, where he vigorously defended his 4 maps. The rest of Council appeared to be unaware of and unconcerned by the depth of Mr. Else’s personal involvement in creating the boundaries for the maps, seeming to believe that the County had led the charge. It really seemed as though they knew NOTHING about the detail in the proposals until last night, when they were educated by concerned citizens who did their homework. It is disappointing and discouraging that something as important as this redistricting, is being driven by and left in the hands of a single individual who has a lot to gain should one of his proposals be approved. Though he claims he is not running for re-election next year, there is certainly a desire to ensure his party maintains control in his district.