City-County Council concludes redistricting forum series with report

The City-County Council concluded its 10-part redistricting forum series with the release of a report on Wednesday breaking down the response. It came the same day an Indiana not-for-profit launched its own citizen redistricting commission.

“The report makes clear council leadership’s determination to create space for a wide variety of community voices to be heard at the very outset of the redistricting process,” the council said in written statement. Democrats are leading the council redistricting process for the first time.

The 10 forums, consisting of nine township-based, in-person events and one virtual event, drew 155 unique participants, according to the report. An average of 18 residents attended each, including some repeat participants. The forums came before any new maps or ordinances will be drawn or written.

Some residents implored the council to unite communities split across districts, like the excluded city of Beech Grove—represented by districts 18, 21 and 24—and the Fountain Square, Fletcher Place and Bates-Hendricks neighborhood area—fractured into districts 16, 17 and 21.

“Please consider neighborhood boundaries,” said one Lawrence Township resident, according to the report. “… Today, most neighborhood associations have two, three, or more councilors to convince to make decisions. One-to-one would be much more efficient–even if it means loosening strangleholds on certain districts.”

Another resident, from Decatur Township, called for district and township boundaries to align. The township is currently mostly in District 20, but bleeds into District 22, while the district’s eastern borders fall into Perry Township.

“We are in the Perry Township Schools, shop in the Perry Township area, we live, eat and play in that zone, so a lot of concerns may not be aligned with the people of Decatur Township,” said one Perry Township resident living in District 20.

Other participants asked the council to keep boundaries benefiting communities like Mapleton-Fall Creek and Irvington, which are each wholly contained within districts.

Indianapolis is also home to significant pockets of Latino, Sikh and Burmese populations. One Washington Township resident told council members to “respect diversity” in the district, which has has one of the city’s largest Burmese populations.

Forty-two completed demographic surveys indicated that the mix of participants were made up of a slightly higher ratio of white people than Marion County’s and were significantly more likely to have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Indianapolis consulting firm Engaging Solutions planned and ran the forums, and produced Wednesday’s report. Engaging Solutions is part of the council’s $300,000 redistricting contract with Indianapolis-based law firm Ice Miller.

The council’s nonpartisan staff has said the contract was an attempt to insulate the forums from partisanship.

“We were intentional about allowing a third party to run this process so that there’s no implicit bias in convening these meetings,” Staff Policy Director Brandon Herget told IBJ in February.

That hasn’t stopped an Indiana election watchdog from offering its own “public interest alternative to partisan redistricting.” Common Cause Indiana announced—also on Wednesday—that it had formed a nine-member, “politically balanced” citizen redistricting commission, similar to a state-level project it led last year.

The Marion County Republican Party has also pushed back, noting the report contained a mislabeled map and claiming it was “littered with falsehoods and misrepresentations.”

“Now that the report is out, it is clear that President [Vop] Osili and council Democrats did not care to engage the citizens of Marion County and instead hired consultants to simply go through the motions,” said Indy GOP Chair Joe Elsener in written statement.

So what’s next?

The report said the community feedback would be “considered for the map-making process,” adding, “Additional practical, legal, and/or feasible factors will determine which of them are applied in the rendering of the maps.”

New proposed districts will be presented to the council this spring, according to the report.

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