It’s possible Springfield will draw new district lines for city council representation in 2024 or 2025, but it is not likely to happen until some major planning work is finished.
At an informational meeting March 1, the Springfield City Council took up redistricting the four zones that help determine the council’s makeup. The council is made up of nine members in all: one from each of Springfield’s four council zones, four “general seat” or at-large members, and the mayor.
Unlike congressional or Missouri General Assembly redistricting, adjusting the boundaries of Springfield’s city council districts does not directly affect the number of representatives on the council that any Springfield voter has.
“The beauty here is this isn’t about the number of seats distributed over a larger area, it’s just about general population representation,” City Manager Jason Gage said.
However, as is the case with past Springfield elections, general council seat representatives and the mayor can be from any part of Springfield.
There is a small population difference among Springfield’s four city council zones, but it may be a couple of years — or maybe more — until the map is redrawn to divide the city more evenly among the districts. That’s because of a major comprehensive planning initiative expected to be the city government’s key focus for the rest of 2022.
The boundaries of Springfield’s four city council districts affect the way Springfield’s population is represented on the council. Redistricting is a hot button issue for some Missourians at the congressional and state levels, but in Springfield, the city government’s focus is more geared toward comprehensive planning for the next 20 years.
Who should care?
- Stakeholders who care about the makeup of the Springfield City Council’s membership
- Property developers
March 1 was the 10th day on the job for Susan Istenes, Springfield’s new director of planning and development. Istenes previously directed planning and development in the St. Louis suburb of Clayton for more than 11 years.
Redistricting discussion started after the 2020 U.S. Census.
“It was determined that Zone One and Zone Four, as you can see on the map, have a discrepancy or a difference in their population size, that being 6.83 percent,” Istenes said.
Zone One’s population is 40,931. Zone One is largely made up of northwest Springfield, with key boundaries at West Grand and West Mill streets, part of National Avenue and parts of North Kellett Avenue and North Summit Avenue. Its neighborhoods include Grant Beach, Tom Watkins, Woodland Heights, Heart of the Westside and the Westside Community Betterment Association. Former councilwoman Angela Romine vacated her seat representing Zone One in February in order to run for the Missouri Senate.
Zone Four has the highest population of Springfield’s four quadrants, checking in at 43,725. It is mostly east of Campbell Avenue and south of Sunshine Street.
The difference from highest to lowest, or southeast to northwest, is 2,784 people.
Zone Two, the northwest quadrant, has a population of 41,584. Zone Three, or southwest Springfield, has a population of 42,936.
Zone Four Councilman Matthew Simpson asked about the population differences between the zones, and at what level of difference redistricting is triggered.
“Is it still true that it’s 10 percent where you have to redistrict? Below that, it’s our option, right?”
“The Census recommends that when you hit the 10 percent mark that you redistrict,” Istenes said. “We are well below that 10 percent, obviously.”
Before changes, Istenes would present alternative options for shifting boundaries. Neighborhood meetings would be held before the council would consider a bill to draw new district lines. Community meetings would be held in June and July.
“These are big deals. I mean, these are large, important meetings that have to be scheduled accordingly to ensure that we get the most public participation possible,” Istenes said.
The considerations for how to draw lines on the map go beyond the U.S. Census population data. Factors include natural geographic boundaries, like major streets or creeks, and the boundaries of Springfield’s 34 neighborhoods. The city also works with the Greene County Clerk’s Office to try to work within the boundaries of voting precincts and polling places, which can also be adjusted over time.
If the process started immediately, a city council vote on redistricting would not occur until at least August 2022. That coincides with the timeline of the Forward SGF initiative, which is a 20-year master plan that will serve as Springfield’s roadmap for growth and a guiding document for future decisionmaking.
“When we look at the overlapping timelines and how much those overlap, if we choose to pursue redistricting, is it possible for staff to complete Forward SGF in the expected timeline?” Simpson asked.
Gage responded about the possibility of doing a redistricting process alongside finishing the comprehensive plan. “I would think it might be difficult, because both are very hands-on,” Gage said. “Right now, the time and attention of the comp plan is very significant for staff.”
The side-by-side timeline could hinder the city’s ability to gather community involvement for redistricting, the comprehensive master plan or both. City staff members intend to hold a series of public meetings about the Forward SGF comprehensive plan in the coming months, and Istenes said the intent is to try to drum up good attendance at those meetings.
“A lot of times, (the) public will get a little burnt out on coming to these large public meetings,” she said.
Istenes and her staff recommended that the council wait to address district lines until after the comprehensive plan is adopted.
Law allows the Springfield City Council to examine redistricting at any point in time. Mayor Ken McClure wants to wait until after the comprehensive plan is introduced to the public. The mayor is interested in Springfield attempting to gain the voluntary annexation of parts of unincorporated Greene County into Springfield, which could then change city council district populations in the years and decades to come.
“We are below the 10-percent guideline,” McClure said. “Two things relating to annexation — I would hope that our comprehensive plan helps give us some direction on that. Secondly, we’ve talked about consent annexations. Some of those, as I have been looking at the map, make a lot of sense and are contiguous; some of them are not contiguous and will be more of a challenge.”
Gage said that there would need to be several major annexations for the zone populations to climb above the 10-percent population disparity level. The percentage was a big factor in McClure’s reasoning to wait to make any adjustments.
“I want to focus on the comprehensive plan. We’re well within the 10-percent timeframe. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if maybe at some point in the next two, three years we have to do this, and that, actually, to me would be a very positive step,” McClure said. “That means we’ve done something that triggers some growth somewhere in the city, maybe all areas.”
Near the end of the redistricting discussion on March 1, the eight council members reached an informal consensus that redistricting would wait until the comprehensive planning process is at or near its end.
“I think we have time, time to revisit this issue,” Zone Two Councilman Abe McGull said.
“I think it would be better for us to let some of the programming initiatives — to let the natural development of things happen, naturally, and see where we are maybe in two years or so. We have a lot of things on our plate, and putting an additional thing on the plate right now, I think, might be a little bit too much for staff.”