Panel releases draft map of nine residential districts for Columbus City Council seats

Mark Ferenchik
The Columbus Dispatch
The map that the city has proposed to divide up city council districts

The Columbus City Council Residential Districting Commission released a draft map Wednesday of the proposed nine residential districts to show what the boundaries for future council representation could look like.

But the map, which can be viewed here, is based on 2010 census data, so it's not a final version. All future maps will use 2020 census data, which will be available in the next few weeks.

The commission unveiled the first draft map Wednesday evening during a meeting from Columbus City Hall that was streamed online for residents. Members of the commission revealed the process that led to the map's creation, and sought public input before an Oct. 1 deadline days before the second draft map will be released.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that Columbus grew by 15% between 2010 and 2020, from 787,033 to 905,748, by far the state's largest city.

Yet the draft map gives the public an idea of what the boundaries could look like, while likely generating more debate. Council members representing each district will be required to live in them beginning in 2024, but voters citywide will vote for each member. That change came after voters approved a city charter amendment in 2018 to create district representation.

"We felt that it was the best course of action with the pandemic delay of census data," Councilmember Emmanuel Remy said. Residents will have 30 days to comment on this map before new ones reflecting 2020 census numbers are released, he said.

The populations of each district of the draft map are generally pretty close in size, ranging from 86,939 in District 2, which sits in the far western part of the city generally along Interstate 270, to 87,969 in District 9, which includes the Short North, the University District and Clintonville.

"I think the work is challenging regardless," Remy said. "There are neighborhoods almost certainly divided.

"The goal of this plan is to ensure that there are nine council members living in nine districts of the city who are more understanding of the area they represent," he said.

Jasmine Ayres, a progressive Columbus Democrat and former city council candidate, said she is waiting to see the maps, but has concerns about the overall change.

"Someone could win the district and lose the seat because it’s all at-large (citywide) voting," Ayres said. "I don’t think that's very democratic. So here we are."

And while Ayres said the five-member Council Residential Districting Commission is working hard on the maps, she wonders whether they ultimately will be drawn so current council members aren't in the same district.

The commission was seated in February and began meeting weekly in May in Columbus City Council Chambers. Those working sessions will continue this month when they obtain the 2020 census figures and consider public input on the draft.

The commission has held eight public meetings, six working sessions and has done an online survey of Columbus residents that commission members say helped determine the districts as they stand now.

Commission member Dave Paul presented the results of that survey during Wednesday's meeting.

One of the survey's key takeaways, Paul said, was that most residents indicated that they prefer to contact a council representative for concerns based on geography rather than based on a specialized topic area. Among their most pressing concerns were public safety, housing access and public transit.

The tentative presentation for the second round of draft maps is 5:30 p.m. Oct. 7. Commission members anticipate that the final map draft will be unveiled in November, providing for 30 days of public comment before the December deadline to present the final map to City Council for a vote. The charter requires that city council choose a map by the end of the year.

Commission member Monica Cerrezuela said during Wednesday’s meeting that she is confident they will be able to stick to this timeline. 

Commission Chairman Malik Moore said because of the history of the divide that freeways created —cutting through and separating Black neighborhoods from other parts of the city — district boundaries were created using other features. For example, railroad lines running north and south near Interstate 71 between Districts 8 and 9. 

Some residents wanted neighborhoods to be grouped socioeconomically, he said.

Columbus voters in 2018 approved a city charter amendment to create the new council districts, with the new nine-member council replacing the current seven-member at-large council but all council members still voted at-large. 

In 2023, voters will elect the new nine-member council, with members beginning their terms in January 2024.

The city clerk will draw lots to determine which of the nine members will serve four-year terms and which will serve two-year terms to maintain staggered elections.

Proponents say the new setup will ensure a more diverse council. But critics say no place in Ohio has a system where voters citywide elect representatives in all districts. Usually, only residents of that council ward or district vote for the member from that district.

Ayres mentioned that city council put the charter amendment on the ballot after it voted in February 2018 against a ballot proposal by the group Everyday People for Positive Change to expand the council to 13 seats, with 10 of those district seats and three at-large seats.

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Dispatch reporter Eric Lagatta contributed to this story.