Oct 25, 2021 - Politics

Philly watchdog group calls for transparency in redistricting process

A view of Philadelphia City Hall taken from S Broad Street.

Philadelphia City Hall on Dec. 30, 2015. Photo: Paul Marotta/Getty Images

An independent government watchdog group is pushing for Philadelphia legislators to make the redistricting process more transparent.

Driving the news: The Committee of Seventy is submitting a six-step roadmap Monday for Philadelphia lawmakers to follow as they prepare to redraw the city's 10 political districts.

Why it matters: Philly doesn't have any regulations around how political lines are drawn, such as mandated public hearings, Patrick Christmas, the nonprofit's policy director, told Axios.

  • The process, which occurs every 10 years, is typically done behind closed doors.

State of play: All 17 members of the Philadelphia City Council have until Feb. 12, 2022 to approve a map. If they fail to reach an agreement, they face the prospect of having their paychecks withheld.

  • The core of the 10 council districts has been the same for decades.

The big picture: Zoning rules and land sales are among the biggest issues determined by the district you live in, Christmas said. They can dictate "how that area will look like and change over the next 10 years," he added.

  • The city's 10 district legislators each have the final say over land deals in their respective districts due to an unwritten city tradition known as "councilmanic prerogative."
  • Christmas said he's concerned about several communities "split" among different council districts, including the Fishtown and Kensington neighborhoods and the Castor Avenue business corridor in Northeast Philadelphia.

Of note: Individual legislators are elected to represent the city's 10 districts, while seven members are elected by citywide votes.

The intrigue: The committee is pushing legislators to count the more than 4,000 individuals in city jails at their home addresses.

  • They're currently being counted at the corrections facilities, which are all located in the 6th District in Northeast Philadelphia.
  • "That's a local gerrymandering issue,” Christmas said.

Beyond the push to count incarcerated individuals at their home address, the Committee of Seventy's other proposals include:

  • Creating an online portal accessible in several languages where legislators can collect public input and post information about the process.
  • Collecting and analyzing public input.
  • Releasing a preliminary map for public feedback.
  • Publishing a final map and narrative about how legislators created the map.
  • Creating an advisory committee led by residents to develop reforms, like the creation of an independent commission, to be put into law.

What they're saying: A spokesperson for Council President Darrell L. Clarke told The Philadelphia Inquirer that there will be "ample opportunity for public comment" in the upcoming redistricting process.


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