Drawing lines in the sand 

Redrawing a city’s political boundaries is no simple task. But the Missoula City Local Government Study Commission, which is recommending that voters change Missoula’s City Council from a six-ward setup with two representatives per ward to a nine-ward configuration with one rep in each, is determined to do just that.

The commission’s tentative reapportionment plan takes many considerations into account: state election precinct lines, neighborhood council boundaries, current Council members’ residency, contiguity and the city charter requirement for equal voter populations in the new wards.

At the commission’s request, the Office of Planning and Grants’ Dave Dewing updated 2000 census data by adding in new residents who’ve since secured residential building permits; he estimates Missoula’s current population at 64,351, compared to the 2000 census finding of 57,053.

The group was still tinkering with the final lines June 26, but has basically settled on a configuration. Despite a goal to observe natural borders, at least one ward, which spans downtown and Northside and Westside neighborhoods, will likely be split by the Clark Fork River. A few neighborhood councils and precincts will also be split up by new ward boundaries.

Secondary questions the commission is still asking include the new ward designations (Roman numerals? Alphabet letters?) as well as just how to accomplish the transition for elected officials, should voters ultimately back the commission’s findings come November.

At this point, public support is the key factor yet to be weighed; the commission will hold a July 12 meeting and July 19 public hearing on its draft final report, and reapportionment maps and meeting specifics can be found at www.ci.missoula.mt.us/lgsc.

Citizens are certain to have opinions about a plan that could change who represents them on Council and what neighborhoods are included in their wards. Under the proposed plan, Councilmen Dave Strohmaier and Jerry Ballas would both represent different areas of town than they currently do. Strohmaier says he needs to think some more before voicing his opinion. And though Ballas didn’t care to clarify his thoughts, his brief response is telling enough: “I don’t know that my thoughts on that are printable right now.”

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