South KC Perspective
By John Sharp
Many south Kansas City residents, myself included, will find themselves in different City Council districts when the 2023 primary and general elections take place to elect the mayor and City Council members.
Following a debate that mainly centered on the boundaries for City Council districts north of the Missouri River, the Council approved new district boundaries December 16 by a 9-4 vote. Redrawing Council District boundaries is required under the City Charter after each U.S. census to equalize the population of the Districts.
Instead of covering almost all of Kansas City south of the I-435/I-470 corridor, the 6th District now goes no farther east than I-49, and the 5th District comes farther south to pick up the area east of there.
Under the new boundaries that will be in place for the next municipal election, the 6th District will extend much farther north to 43rd St., taking in the Plaza area, while still going all the way south to include the portion of KCMO in Cass County south of the 155th St. county line.
The 6th District will run from the Kansas border to Troost south from 43rd St. to Bannister Rd., then east to Grandview Rd. and south on Grandview Rd. to I-435. Its boundary continues east along I-435 to I-49, south on I-49 to Red Bridge. Rd, then back west to Grandview Rd. and south on it to the Grandview City limits.
Everything west of the city of Grandview will remain in the 6th District, as will the sparsely populated portion of Cass County that goes about 1.4 miles south of the county line at its most southern point.
The 5th District will pick up all of south Kansas City south of I-470 including the area east of the city of Grandview that extends south to the Cass County line on 155th St., placing most of the Hickman Mills School District in the 5th.
Knowing the 5th District would be pushed south to pick up more population, many community leaders in the Hickman Mills School District requested at public hearings that all or at least the vast majority of their community be included in the 5th District to facilitate neighborhoods working together on city issues and to give their area more political influence with 5th District Council members.
While those of us who worked on this did not get everything we asked for, the approved boundaries did place a little more of the Hickman Mills community in the 5th District than what was originally proposed, so the great majority of the Hickman Mills School District will be in the 5th District for the next election.
West of the city of Raytown the 5th District still comes as far north as Emanuel Cleaver Blvd., but it did lose a little of the northern part of this area to the adjoining 3rd District. East of the city of Raytown the 5th District still goes north of U.S. 40 Highway almost to 46th St.
The final district map, in my opinion, is an improvement over the 2011 redistricting that replaced south Kansas City basically having its own 6th City Council district that generally took in all of south Kansas City south of around 85th St.
Under the 2011 redistricting, the 5th District came south to the I-435/I-470 corridor east of Holmes Rd. and went even further south to Red Bridge Rd. between I-49 and Hillcrest Rd. That redistricting than extended the 6th District north to 59th St. between the Kansas border and either Troost or Holmes Rd. so the new district, which many south Kansas leaders criticized as terribly gerrymandered, looked like a capital letter L with legs.
The redistricting shifted the majority of the district’s population to the more affluent and politically influential western portion of the district, diminishing the influence of the Hickman Mills community.
As a 6th District Councilman at the time, I tried to amend that plan to keep the Bannister Mall area and the South Patrol Police campus site in the 6th District but was unsuccessful, and I voted against the redistricting plan.
The 9-member Redistricting Commission appointed this year by Mayor Quinton Lucas voted 6-3 to recommend its redistricting plan to the City Council for approval. The dissenting members issued a minority report criticizing the plan for scrapping how most of the city north of the river had been divided in the past into eastern and western districts largely along the Clay and Platte County border and replacing it with northern and southern districts.
An amendment to substitute eastern and western districts that appeared to have the support of much of the civic, neighborhood and political leadership in the northland failed on a 6-7 vote on the City Council. All four Council members who live in the northland voted for it along with 4th District Councilman Eric Bunch whose district includes some of the northland and 6th District-at-Large Councilwoman Andrea Bough. The mayor and the other Council members who live south of the river voted against it.
Amendments to make minor adjustments between the 4th and 6th Districts and the 3rd and 5th districts to avoid splitting up neighborhoods were adopted as was an amendment that specifies the new Council District boundaries will not take effect until August 1, 2023, when the mayor and Council members elected in 2023 are seated to begin their next 4-year terms, except for filing and running for office.
The four Council members who live in the northland – Dan Fowler, Heather Hall, Teresa Loar and Kevin O’Neill voted against the ordinance adopting the new boundaries, and the mayor and the rest of the Council members voted for it.
A major unanimous recommendation of the Commission was for the mayor to appoint a Charter Review Commission to possibly increase the number of Council Districts and review the effectiveness of having at-large Council members.
It is extremely difficult for candidates without the ability to raise large amounts of campaign funds to run successfully for any of the six at-large seats since the city is so big. Because there are only six Council Districts, even running a grassroots door-to-door campaign for an in-district seat is difficult because the districts that have an average population of 84,681 based on the last census are very large themselves.
Switching from a 6 and 6 plan to 12 districts would allow more neighborhood leaders and community volunteers who have shown their love for their neighborhoods and for our city to have a realistic chance of being elected to the Council.
Their voices on the Council should be welcomed.