Morrisville’s Town Council is preparing to redraw its council districts in an effort to account for uneven population growth in the booming town.
The council will vote to adopt one of three proposed new maps at the end of October using data from the special census it commissioned in 2015, which shows the town’s population of 23,299 is more than what was estimated in 2010. The census showed a difference of 2,800 residents between District 1, the town’s largest district, and District 3, its smallest.
The town is asking for resident input on the maps and held two informal drop-in sessions to receive comments. Residents also can leave comments at the Town Hall History Center through Sept. 30 and on the town’s website.
But one councilman, TJ Cawley, has said the process is unnecessary. There is also disagreement among other council members about how much variance from the preferred average district population is acceptable in the interest of keeping neighborhoods in the same district.
Councilman Michael Schlink has said he favors aggressive resizing to bring districts as close as possible to the average, while Councilwoman Liz Johnson has said she’d prefer a 10 percent variance to minimize the number of residents moved to a new district.
In Morrisville, council districts apply only to those who wish to run for office. Residents can vote for all six council members and the mayor, but candidates can only run for the council seat for the district in which they live. The council’s four district seats are complemented by two at-large seats and the mayor, who votes with the council.
Each of the three proposed maps would place two current council members into the same district. That could cause political friction in upcoming elections, which are staggered every two years.
Town Manager Martha Paige said no decisions have yet been made about what a shared district would mean for incumbents in the next two elections – in 2017 and 2019 – before the 2020 census.
Cawley said at the Sept. 13 meeting that he’d like to delay the realignment of the districts until after the 2020 census.
“I would like to point out that all the new maps have two members in one of the districts,” Cawley said. “It has been stated multiple times that the drawing of new maps is optional.”
Schlink said he thinks Cawley’s opposition to redistricting reflects concerns about a possible challenge to getting re-elected. . In two of the proposed maps, Cawley shares a district with Councilwoman Liz Johnson, who won re-election last November and will not be up for election again until 2019. Cawley’s term expires in 2017.
“He’s sabotaging what we’re trying to accomplish here, and he’s not being positive,” Schlink said.
In the early stages of the redistricting process, Schlink asked town staff not to consider council members’ addresses when drawing new maps.
But Cawley said he expects he’ll be able to run for re-election in 2017 no matter what happens. His concern, he said, has more to do with his belief that the process has been a waste of town staff’s time and resources. Redistricting is not statutorily required until after the 2020 census.
Cawley also objects with the decision to have the council choose among three options instead of just one, a format he said injects politics into what he believes should be a staff-directed process.
Cawley said he will vote for the map closest to the status quo, which allows for a 10 percent variance from the average district size. It is also the one map of the three proposed that would not result in him sharing a district with another council member. Cawley unsuccessfully lobbied to eliminate council member districts altogether earlier this year.
“Having districts at all is what they call candidate suppression,” Cawley said. “Would you rather pick two out of four or one out of these two and one out of these two when it comes down to the ballot?”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan
See the maps and provide comments at the town’s website at townofmorrisville.org/districtmaps.