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Why I went into the wards

Lincolnton City Council member Larry Mac Hovis has every right to question my motives in creating and presenting a proposal for new city wards.
After all, why would a journalist get involved in such a thing?
I was a little surprised I wasn’t questioned along these lines when I initially presented the plan to the council earlier this month.
I hope council members will appreciate my effort in this column to respond and explain.
I began looking at Lincolnton’s wards when there was a legal challenge to the existing map in late 2009.
After some very in-depth research and analysis, I found that the wards had indeed been out of balance when they were created in the mid-1990s and were even more out of balance after the 2000 Census.
The potential lawsuit was dropped, making the point moot. Even so, I had become something of an overnight expert on redistricting, especially in relation to the city of Lincolnton.
With new Census numbers becoming available this spring, I’d long planned to repeat the same analysis, and if I found that the wards remained out of balance, I would attempt to draw up a new plan to prove that fair redistricting could be done easily.
I also wanted this plan to show that all sitting incumbents could be allowed to defend their seats. I felt doing this would be in the interest of fair play, especially given the bitterness that followed the 2009 election.
My original plan was to describe what I’d done in an article, but present it only as one of many possible ways in which the city might create new wards.
As events progressed, I realized the city was on the verge of paying an outside group to do the same thing. I decided to offer my plan for actual consideration, saving the taxpayers several thousand dollars. I contacted the mayor about my work and he put me on the agenda for the May council session.
Hovis has asked why I drew the new map the way I did.
Mostly, I was trying to meet my stated objectives — balancing the ward populations, correcting splits in Census blocks, generating easy-to-understand boundaries and preventing political bickering by keeping all incumbents in their current wards.
Hovis has asked why a particular city resident who might be seeking his seat, Tim Shain, was placed in the Fourth Ward.
Although I moved many areas of the city between wards, I would have had to go out of my way to place him outside the Fourth Ward, without accomplishing anything else that got me closer to my objectives.
When I looked at the map I’d created, I was not blind to the political ramifications. I saw immediately that I’d put Shain in the Fourth Ward, which is where he is under the existing plan.
I would have had to redraw the map intentionally to stretch the Third Ward north to include Shane. I didn’t see any reason to do that, especially since the population total for the Third Ward was spot on the ideal of 2,622.
There are others, including Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated citizens, who I’ve heard rumored as potential candidates to challenge for the two City Council seats on the ballot this fall. Under the plan I’ve offered, some of them would be able to run and some wouldn’t. But that’s the result of chance, not design.
When it came to drawing up the proposed wards, I put the incumbents, and only the incumbents, in their current districts on purpose. Everyone else fell out where they fell out, without any effort at manipulation.
Was this entire project appropriate?
There’s ample precedent for newspapers doing exactly this sort of thing. Newspapers often generate public policy proposals that their editors believe are beneficial.
Newspapers for which I’ve worked in the past have similarly offered their plans for a wide range of ideas — hurricane response initiatives, utility line burials, special option sales taxes, punishing corrupt political leaders, housing suspected terrorists, school enrollment redistricting, exploring outer space and handling immigration. I didn’t personally support every proposal, some of which failed and some of which succeeded.
But it’s very clearly within the traditional role of newspapers for us to create, present and advocate such ideas.
Hovis has complained that, as I told the council during my presentation, I’m a registered Republican.
I brought that up solely as a matter of public disclosure. My political affiliation with the majority party in Lincoln County was always a matter of public record. It’s also true, as I pointed out, that my boss is a registered Democrat.
And it’s true, as I pointed out, that I often vote for Democrats. Case in point — I voted for the Democratic candidates for Register of Deeds and U.S. House last year. I also ended up voting for only one of two county commissioner seats because I couldn’t find more than one person on the general election ballot I could support.
Like most voters, I’m registered with a political party, but I’m not a staunchly partisan person.
What does the newspaper itself get out of my proposal?
We hope our customers see that we are trying to save taxpayers money and present a plan that is fair.
We also have a stake in competitive and fair elections in Lincolnton and Lincoln County. We don’t want to see any one party or region dominate. In case Republicans thought my plan was doing what Hovis has suggested and giving them an unfair advantage, they’d better think again.
We believe it’s better for businesses like ours and for the people of the community if political uncertainty keeps our political leaders on their toes. It’s not good for any group — R or D, EL or WL — to have a lock on power.
I’d like to see the City Council embrace the plan I’ve offered for the good of the city. I worked hard on it. I took some pride in it. But at the end of the day, it’s their call, and I respect that. I would just ask that I not be assigned false motives or actions.
Frank Taylor is managing editor of the Lincoln Times-News.

by Frank Taylor

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