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Boise removes geographic requirement for redistricting commissioners, replaces with requirement for diversity

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Boise’s redistricting process for the 2023 city council election is getting a last minute shakeup. 

Council members heard public testimony and deliberated at length earlier this month on a proposed ordinance to set up a redistricting commission. They voted to write an ordinance requiring Mayor McLean to appoint the commissioners who will draw the 2023 lines from separate geographic areas of the city. Everything seemed decided and tied up neatly. 

Up until City Council Member Patrick Bageant expressed other ideas.  

At the top of last Tuesday’s city council meeting, he objected to a vote to complete the first reading of the redistricting commission ordinance and pitched a change to the ordinance instead. This resulted in a new draft of the ordinance that requires McLean to appoint diverse representatives to the commission, including geographic diversity, but it scraps the legal requirement for the commissioners to come from strict geographic boundaries drawn by city code. 

The city council is not holding a new public hearing on this ordinance, but they are taking public feedback. You can share your thoughts here.

Rebuilding trust 

Bageant argued against the geographic requirement at the first vote, but ultimately decided to go along with it despite his reservations. 

He told council last week the more he thought about it the more strongly he felt geography shouldn’t be the only factor in how McLean should appoint commissioners. 

“I really worry that assigning commissioning to a district creates the impression that they should advocate for that district or should represent that part of the city in drawing the district lines, which I see as encouraging balkanization and siloing and isolating (areas of our) cities,” he said. “Candidates should run in their district and work for their district, but how their districts are divided is a city-wide issue and we should draw from the best and the brightest from everywhere in the city no matter where someone happens to live.”

Other council members agreed, but they wondered how to make the change in a way that helped earn trust back from residents who heavily pushed for the geographic requirements in the public hearing. City Council President Elaine Clegg acknowledged the high levels of distrust in government in America, and Boise, right now, but she said a key element of earning trust from residents is to create a system of checks and balances that allows people to make sound decisions. 

She pointed out that only requiring geographic diversity doesn’t prevent a mayor from appointing all of her or his political allies to the commission legally. The ordinance would be in place both for the upcoming process, but for future redistricting following US Census results every ten years, unless a future council made changes.

“If the commission has to be diverse, but doesn’t specify how it’s going to be diverse we have a process that is going to rebuild trust because one will assume the mayor will make good decisions for appointing those commissioners,” Clegg said. “I believe this mayor will do that and then this council sits in judgment of that decision and we (can say) ‘no that isn’t the correct choice’, but instead (requiring geographic diversity tries) to impose systems where we take the judgment and the trust out. That doesn’t work in a democracy.”

Willits lone no vote

Willits was once again the only no vote on the redistricting commission ordinance. 

She said as the only member of city council who lives outside of the greater downtown area, she would like to see more mandated inclusion of voices from other areas of the city. 

“There is a feeling that those who live in the core of Boise aren’t as much as they’d like to be. I know I’m in the minority on this, but I think sideboards are important and you build trust through sideboards and you build trust through the ability to say ‘we’re not going to stack the deck’ and without any sideboards, you continue to have a system that perpetuates insulation.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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