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City OKs new voting wards, but lines need final tweaking
by Joshua H. Silavent
Sep 27, 2011 | 1110 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/John Byrne - Lonnie Feemster, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, gives input Monday to the City Council about new voting ward boundaries.
Tribune/John Byrne - Lonnie Feemster, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, gives input Monday to the City Council about new voting ward boundaries.
SPARKS — The City Council on Monday approved new ward boundaries that will affect voters in next year’s primary and general elections.

However, city planning officials are reviewing a last-minute amendment to the proposed voting ward map to ensure that a mandated population balance remains intact. Final confirmation of the new voting wards is expected today.

Redistricting the city’s voting wards comes on the heels of 2010 U.S. census data showing the population in Sparks grew to 91,057 from about 77,000 over the last decade.

Municipal code requires that no single ward have a population that exceeds any other by more than 5 percent.

But the census reports that population growth since 2003 — the last time the voting wards were redrawn — has upended this balance and triggered the necessary adjustments.

According to staff reports, when the total population is divided evenly among the five wards, Ward 1 is under-populated by about 10 percent; Ward 2 is under-populated by 3 percent; Ward 3 is under-populated by 16 percent; and Ward 4 and Ward 5 are overpopulated by 26 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

In August, city staff presented three different redistricting concepts for the council’s discussion. Based on that input, staff focused on modifications to map 1C, which now includes the Stonebrook development and the area master-planned Tourist Commercial within the Tierra Del Sol zoning handbook in Ward 4, represented by Councilman Mike Carrigan.

The council approved map 1C Monday, with an amendment to move Stone View Drive from Ward 3 to Ward 4 in order to retain Vistas homeowners association members within a single voting bloc.

Officials are working to ensure that this change does not disrupt the target population threshold for either ward and will announce its findings today.

View the un-amended map by visiting

Lonnie Feemster, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was the only city resident to show up during a public hearing on redistricting the voting wards Monday.

Feemster applauded the work city staff had done, but did offer a few tweaks to the approved map.

For example, Feemster would have liked to see the city’s “urban core” consolidated within a single ward in order to give lower-income households a larger single voting bloc. The “urban core,” as Feemster defines it, is instead split between wards 3 and 5.

In addition, Feemster said he would like the City Council to consider moving to a ward-only voting format in general elections.

Currently, council seats are decided in a citywide general election, but a ward-only ballot would mean that residents can only vote for their ward representative.

“It’s a community empowerment issue,” Feemster said, adding that lower-income areas do not have the financial means to support candidates in a citywide election.

Councilwoman Julia Ratti agreed.

“The cost of running citywide is prohibitive,” she said.

Councilman Mike Carrigan disagreed, saying ward-only voting was parochial and made it easier for incumbents to win.

Mayor Geno Martini agreed.

“I like it the way it is,” he said.

In other news, the City Council accepted a $15,000 donation from the E.L. Cord Foundation for the re-launch of the Sparks Police Department Reserve Officer Program.

This money will reduce the expenses approved from the police department’s forfeiture account for operation of the program.

The police department is restoring its reserve officer program to combat budget cuts and layoffs as the economic recovery teeters on the brink of a double-dip recession.

“We had a reserve officer program a long time ago,” Police Chief Steve Keefer told the City Council recently during a presentation on the 2.0 version of the program.

The original program was scratched in the early 2000s because of dwindling numbers of enrollees.

Police officials are hoping to recruit 10 reserve officers in the initial phase of the re-launch, with a goal of enlisting 20 reserve officers in the next two years.

The reserve officers will assist patrol officers in their duties and also will serve in times of emergency and disaster relief. They will be under the supervision of full-time officers at all times, Keefer said.

Residents interested in joining the Sparks Police Department Reserve Office Program can pick up applications at the front desk of the police station located at 1701 E. Prater Way.
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