Joliet may take more time on electoral map
By Bob Okon Sun-Times Media August 26, 2013 10:46PM
The Rev. Craig Purchase was among those asking for more time on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, before the city council votes on the proposed district map. | Bob Okon~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 29, 2013 6:33AM
After being questioned by several citizens, a Joliet City Council committee on Monday recommended that the council take a month longer than planned before voting on a new electoral map.
But an extra 30 days won’t be enough time for what some voters want — restructuring the city council to create more minority or East Side representation.
That would take a referendum, which could not be held until March at the earliest, city officials pointed out. The city is trying to get the new map in place a year ahead of the April 2015 election.
The council could vote on the new map at its first meeting in October, which would follow the original plan to have it on public view for 30 days after first being presented at Monday’s meeting of the council’s legislative committee.
But the committee recommended waiting 60 days for a vote after hearing from people such as Pastor Craig Purchase of Mt. Zion Full Gospel Tabernacle in Joliet.
“If we want to have some effective discussion and do a town meeting on this, 30 days is quick,” Purchase said.
Maria Rosas echoed Purchase’s call for more time, saying “a lot of us have never seen a (political) map. We really have to digest what you presented to us.”
The map outlines the five city council districts and generally follows existing boundaries.
Some who spoke at the meeting did not seem as concerned about the district borders as they were about the council structure in which five members run from districts and three members and the mayor run at large.
The form of government was created by referendum in the 1950s, and it would take another referendum to change it, City Manager Thomas Thanas said.
The Mexican-American Coalition of Will County has proposed previously requiring all eight council members to run from districts as a way of getting more minorities and East Siders on the city council. The council now has two black members from the East Side. There are no Hispanics. All three at-large members are white and from the West Side.
Joe Belman of the Mexican-American Coalition said the council’s last couple of electoral maps have tended to “disenfranchise the minority vote because of the fact that you are moving it into the western districts.”
The city’s West Side is where most of the growth occurred during the building boom of the 1990s and early 2000s, leading to a change in council districts that stretched farther west. The older East Side has heavier concentrations of black and Hispanic residents.
Thanas noted that federal law requires each council district to be close to equal in population, or about 29,500 per district, according to the 2010 U.S. census.
In four of the five districts, the largest racial group represented is white. District 4 is the one exception with a 49 percent Hispanic population. That district is represented by Susie Barber, who is black.
Blacks make up 33 percent of the population in District 5, with whites at 36 percent and Hispanics 29 percent.
Legislative committee chairman Terry Morris, who represents District 5 and is black, took exception to one comment characterizing him and Barber as representatives of the black community.
“I think I represent everyone in District 5,” Morris said. “I have not a problem with how many African-Americans are in District 5 and how many Hispanics. If I run again, I will represent everybody.”