Home Culture Economics Anchorage’s Problems: Reapportionment ‘Bungle’ May Lead to Charter Amendment or Lawsuit

Anchorage’s Problems: Reapportionment ‘Bungle’ May Lead to Charter Amendment or Lawsuit

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Tensions over Anchorage’s single-member representation in Municipal Assembly District One continue to rise. One assemblyman says confusion over the redrawing of Anchorage’s Assembly districts has been “bungled” and might result in a lawsuit.

Assemblyman Patrick Flynn is serving in his second term as the only representative of District One, which is comprised of the downtown area of Anchorage, Fairview, Government Hill, Mountain View, and South Addition. According to Flynn, that means he represents “the absolute most and absolute least affluent district parts of Anchorage. I haven’t personally reviewed the census data, but I can assure you that if anyone did, they would find that to be true.”

The municipality of Anchorage is split into six districts. In order to keep an uneven number of representatives on the Assembly, and therefore prevent a possible stalemate of tied votes, one district has a single representative. Anchorage Municipal Code 4.01 states that the Assembly should be “reapportioned” whenever it becomes malapportioned, which should be determined within two months from the adoption of the final state redistricting plan. Since redistricting generally takes place within 90 days of the reporting of the U.S. Census, according to Article 6.10.A of the Alaska state constitution, which in turn is generally announced about two after the U.S. Census, the Assembly deals with reapportionment every ten years.

According to Flynn, the single-member district should rotate every ten years. This would give the residents of the old single-member district a chance to have two elected assembly members. However, District One has remained the only single-representative district since it rotated from District Two in Eagle River in the 1980s. It has been the only district with a single assembly representative for close to three decades, which means residents in District One only have half as much representation for their interests on the Assembly. Flynn says some are unhappy about that.

He is quick to point out that he doesn’t want to imply there is something fundamentally unfair about District One remaining with a single representative, as he says his district also holds about half the population of the other districts. “But several of the neighborhoods within District One have long felt that they would be better served to be part of the larger districts with two voices, as opposed to one, on the Assembly,” he explains, adding, “I don’t think that is a personal criticism, but just a practical one.”

On his personal blog “News from Assemblyman Patrick Flynn,” Flynn summarizes the “bungled” process of the recent reapportionment plan adopted by the Assembly on November 13, 2012:

“Three members met behind closed doors for months, hired a partisan demographic firm (co-owned by the former vice-chair and current treasurer of the Alaska Republican party), produced three lousy plans clearly aimed at protecting the status quo (incumbents), shut out all community council and other public input, and, finally, manipulated the de minimus public process by laying their plan on the table at one meeting and passing it at the next.”

The three assembly members Flynn refers to are Chris Birch, Dick Traini, and Chair Ernie Hall.

Assemblyman Chris Birch has suggested an amendment to the city charter in response to objections over the process from Flynn and community members. A copy of the proposed amendment is not available to the public, but according to Flynn it would “mandate single-member districts. Not that such a change is necessary – if he’d understood the charter prior to promulgating his deficient plans the result could’ve been nine single-member districts and a single two member district, or some other mix thereof.” Anchorage Municipal Code 4 is not specific as to how many districts the city may be divided into, only in that there must be 11 assembly members. Whether an amendment is required to address the issue will be up to the Assembly and the community.

S.J. Klein, President of the Fairview Community Council in District One, says the view of the council is that “11 single-member districts is better than the current system.” The recent reapportionment decision by the Assembly has led the Fairview Community Council to exploring whether it can contest its single-representative status through legal action at a state or federal level.

Though he says the priority of the Fairview Community Council is to have single-member districts, Klein doesn’t hold out much hope that the Assembly would amend the charter.

“If single-member districts are going to happen the way the charter is now, assembly members only serve for two years instead of three, and so with term limits they’d only serve a total of six years instead of nine. And so, there’s not a lot of will to change the apportionment to single-member districts without changing the municipal charter.”

Klein and Flynn are both frustrated with a reapportionment process that has left Fairview and the rest of District One with less representation than the other five districts in Anchorage for almost three decades. Should the assembly decide not to amend the municipal charter, Anchorage may have a lawsuit in its future.

  • Anchorage Assembly Maps of Proposed Reapportionment Maps [pdf]

[In the interest of full disclosure, my husband, John Aronno, is employed by Assemblyman Patrick Flynn.]

7 COMMENTS

  1. 11 single member districts would certainly be better than 5-2s-and-1-1 (what a weird way of doing it.)

    But may I suggest an alternative: non-partisan proportional representation.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proportional_representation

    My favorite method for achieving this would be re-weighted voting: http://www.rangevoting.org/RRVr.html

    But single transferable vote is a proven system:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_transferable_vote

    With 3 “super districts” of 5, 3, and 3 members each (odd numbers tend to work best) there would be less incentive to gerrymander the assembly, and moderate voices would have a better chance of election.

    • I can certainly see how it would be better for the residents of District One! I think 11 single-member districts would be an improvement, but that can be done without the necessity of a charter amendment. The charter already allows for 11 districs, so it’s just up to the Assembly members to intentionally reduce their district size and term length. I think it would be a better option than three “super districts,” as you describe them. Do you think there is a way that the Assembly would find a solution without having the motivation of a lawsuit?

    • Sorry for the confusion. Assembly members currently serve three-year terms. The charter states that if Anchorage should switch to 11 single-representative districts, then the term would only be two years. Assembly reps can serve up to three consecutive terms, so if they were to switch to single-member districts, they’d be reducing the potential time they could sit on the Assembly (consecutively) from nine years to six years.

  2. Now that the Assembly has turned down putting this on ballot. Feel free to sign, gather signatures or donate to the citizens petition that puts on Aprils ballot single member assembly districts. We need 7200significant signatures.
    Email or call 5221118

    • Is there any group in particular that will be gathering signatures for this issue, David? And will it be in regard to splitting the municipality into 11 single-member districts, or are you referring to expanding the school board into 11 regional districts?

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