Drawing the lines

Published 11:24 pm Friday, March 4, 2011

City Council begins process to redraw boroughs’ boundaries

The city is embarking on a once-a-decade process to redraw its borough boundaries after census results showed a surge in population in three of the boroughs.

All seven of the city’s boroughs experienced growth, but the three North Suffolk boroughs — Chuckatuck, Nansemond and Sleepy Hole — grew by leaps and bounds. The redistricting process will bring the boroughs back in line with one another, but the process also is fraught with potential problems.

Since the 2001 redistricting, Sleepy Hole’s growth was the highest, gaining 73.4 percent in nine years. Nansemond gained almost as much, with 69.4 percent. And Chuckatuck experienced growth of 52.1 percent.

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The city’s other boroughs grew by an average of only 7.7 percent, led by Holy Neck with 18.5 percent. Whaleyville grew a measly 2.8 percent.

The first part of the redistricting process was held on Wednesday night, when city staff laid out the process for council members.

“You didn’t mention anything about gerrymandering, and we have some of that in the city of Suffolk,” Councilman Curtis Milteer said after the presentation. He referred to the practice of drawing district lines to include or exclude racial or other groups.

There are legal requirements for the redistricting process. The boroughs must have roughly equal numbers of residents and be compact and contiguous. The redistricting plan must receive approval from the U.S. Department of Justice and not violate the Voting Rights Act. And the plan must fulfill requirements in Title 24.2 of the Code of Virginia, which sets forth provisions for how elections will be conducted in the state.

Under the new plan, each of the boroughs must be brought as close as possible to the target population of 12,083, which equals one-seventh of the city’s population.

Councilman Charles Parr brought up the possibilities of adding an eighth borough or an at-large seat. Either decision would require a charter change, which can only come about through an act of the General Assembly.

City staff will formulate proposals for how to redraw the borough lines and will hold a public hearing on those proposals. Also, community meetings will be held in each borough.

A plan must be approved by Dec. 31. The first City Council election under the new plan would be held in November 2012, when voters will choose their council representatives for the Sleepy Hole, Nansemond and Whaleyville boroughs, as well as the mayor.

The General Assembly is going through a similar process to redraw its own district boundaries, but legislators in Richmond have an earlier deadline. A general election will be held in November 2011 that includes General Assembly seats, so the state’s plan must be completed before then.