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Charter Review Commission considers major change to KC Council districts

Updated: 2013-07-11T03:58:36Z

By LYNN HORSLEY

The Kansas City Star

Leaders of prominent African-American and Latino groups called Wednesday for dramatic changes in the way Kansas City Council members are elected. Their goal: to improve minority representation.

It would be one of the most profound changes to the council system in 50 years.

Since 1963, Kansas City residents have chosen a mayor and 12 council members, including six elected from a particular part of town and six who run citywide.

Under that system, recent elections have produced a council that now has only three African-American members, besides the mayor, and no Latinos.

This in a city with a population that’s 30 percent African-American and 10 percent Latino.

However, a Charter Review Commission is debating proposals to create more districts in which council members would represent smaller segments of the city and wouldn’t run citywide.

Representatives of the Urban League, Freedom Inc. and other groups told the commission Wednesday that the current system is unfair and possibly illegal, because half the council members must run citywide, which can make it harder for minorities in a majority-white city to get elected.

In several recent elections, African-Americans living in the 5th Council District have favored particular at-large candidates but have seen that preference thwarted by the majority white electorate elsewhere in the city, said Urban League President Gwen Grant, who argued that violates the Voting Rights Act.

She said the current system is “inherently inequitable” for African-Americans. “It dilutes our votes and diminishes our freedom of choice.”

Grant joined former City Councilman Ken Bacchus and Guadalupe Centers Chief Executive Cris Medina in urging that the council have at least nine in-district members (and three at-large members) or preferably all 12 members running just within a district.

Commission members were receptive but asked to see maps of how the districts might be redrawn. City staffers said they will try to provide possible maps within a few weeks.

Any charter change would have to go to the City Council and then to Kansas City voters for approval. The Charter Review Commission had originally envisioned putting something on the November ballot, which would require the City Council to adopt ballot language by the end of August. But many observers have said they think such quick action on such a profound change is doubtful.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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