Charter Review Commissioners say data far from clear

Kansas City Charter Review Commissioners dipped into details of voters’ rights law Monday and emerged perplexed.

The issue surfaced because some minority groups want the 13-member group to recommend creating more districts that elect council candidates within them instead of citywide. They say that could result in more minority representation.

When it comes to the voters’ rights law, City Attorney Bill Geary told them, “I can’t give you a specific formula – there is no calculus.”

He does not believe the current council system violates the law and no one has ever filed court action alleging that, he said.

He listed three criteria that must be present to trigger a violation:

  • A minority group has to be large enough and compact enough to be a majority in a district or area.
  • The minority group has to be politically cohesive, meaning they generally vote the same way.
  • The white majority has to vote as a block and that block defeats the minority group’s preferred candidate.

Often allegations of violations in other cities say the law is broken by citywide votes that are unfair to a minority in a district or area, Geary said, but not always.

The last voting rights case in Kansas City in the 1990s involved term limits, he said. In other cities there have also been allegations of “packing,” when the government redistricts and makes a district 95 percent minority to have one minority district instead of two.

All this seems to assume that African-Americans will only vote for people of their race, said Commissioner Rodney Knott.

“It sounds to me like in this criteria we are using racism to define racism,” he said. “I find that kind of weird.”

Commissioner Steve Glorioso said that more and smaller districts would address issues like the current sprawling 6th district and the convoluted 4th district that includes Midtown, crosses the river and goes into the Northeast.

Geary said the 4th district was shaped as it is to keep certain areas together, but agreed it “just looks silly.”

Gayle Holliday, co-chair of the commission, said data from the voting rights law is all over the place, like data from governing systems used by comparable cities.

The commission recently started to look at term limits, and Glorioso said he would like to see data on how other cities use them.

In Kansas City, people can’t be elected to the city council more than two consecutive terms, but they can be appointed to fill unexpired terms or be elected again after a term off.

At the next meeting on Monday, former mayors Emanuel Cleaver and possibly Richard Berkley are expected to address the commission, which is also looking at stronger mayor forms of government.

Any recommendations the commission makes go to the city council, which decides whether to put them to a vote of the public.

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