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St. Louis County redistricting panel fails to reach agreement, kicking decision to a judge

St. Louis County Council redistricting proposals

CLAYTON — Republicans and Democrats on the St. Louis County redistricting commission failed Monday to draw County Council lines to adjust for the 2020 census, kicking the decision to a federal judge.

The inability to reach an agreement represents the fifth decade in a row in which the 14-member Bipartisan Reapportionment Commission — one Republican and Democrat representing each of seven county districts — fell short.

Agreement would have required at least nine votes of approval for a map, meaning at least two Republicans or two Democrats would have had to vote with the other party’s representatives.

The last time the commission successfully drew County Council lines was in 1971. The last four iterations of the commission failed to reach agreement and kicked the issue to federal judges, who have drawn County Council lines each decade since 1981.

Redistricting is required every 10 years to try to ensure the seven County Council districts are as equal in population as possible. Voters in each district elect one representative to the council, the county’s legislative body.

Last week, Democrats and Republicans expressed optimism they could feasibly hammer out a bipartisan proposal while adjusting for a slight population shift from north St. Louis County to areas south and west.

But by Monday, reality had set in: Democrats issued a press release hours before the commission meeting announcing that they could not agree with the Republicans.

The release did not detail the disagreement, but laid out an argument for Democrats’ proposed map: it kept 79 out of 88 municipalities wholly within a particular council district and kept each district’s total population within 500 residents of one another, and while trying to keep distinct cultural communities together.

Republicans on Monday night emphasized their proposal was more compact and made fewer changes from the current council map, which was drawn in 2011.

The main sticking points between the two maps revolved around three key differences in how they drew borders between two pairs of districts: the Republican-majority 3rd District and the Democrat-majority 2nd District, and the white-majority 5th District and the Black-majority 1st District.

Democrats’ map would have moved the boundary between the 2nd and the 3rd districts, currently on Olive Boulevard, south toward Highway 40 (Interstate 64), to incorporate nearly all of Creve Coeur.

That would have drawn Councilman Tim Fitch, R-3rd District, out of his district. Fitch who lives in a Creve Coeur apartment complex at 13115 Mill Crossing Court, just southeast of Olive Boulevard and Highway 141, has said he moved to the apartment from Fenton a year ago.

Fitch, who attended the Monday meeting by teleconference, accused Democrats of drawing him out intentionally. Fitch is running for reelection next year.

“Last I knew, I thought this had been worked out, and suddenly last minute I am drawn out of the district again,” Fitch said.

Democrats accused Republicans of seeking to “gerrymander” the district just to benefit Fitch’s incumbency. They argued it was inevitable the 2nd District border would move south to adjust for population.

“The population moved south and west so it only made sense that the districts would grow south and west,” said Dana Sandweiss, a 5th District Democrat.

Republicans also wanted the new border between the 1st and 5th districts, in University City, to be Delmar Boulevard, shifting south several blocks from its current southernmost point at Vernon Avenue. And they would have moved the 5th District’s borders west and south to incorporate more Republican-held areas in the 3rd and 5th Districts.

Democrats, in contrast, had proposed shifting the Vernon Avenue border up north to Olive Boulevard. And they said the Republican border between the 3rd and 5th Districts would have cut apart Meacham Park, a historically Black-majority neighborhood in Kirkwood.

The commission briefly discussed holding another meeting before a Nov. 28 deadline in a last-ditch effort to reach agreement.

But neither party trusted one another to hold to the plan.

“I would have to have confidence that we would accomplish something honestly, and I don’t think I should have to waste more of my time,” said John Joseph Kelly, a 2nd District Republican.

The county’s population grew by half a percent — roughly 5,700 people — over 2010. But the majority-Black, majority-Democratic 1st and 4th districts in north St. Louis County were the only two districts to lose population.

The 1st District experienced the greatest change, counting 14,955 fewer residents than in 2020; it is now the least-populated district at 128,072 residents. The 4th District has 138,188 residents.

The other five districts each have at least 140,000 residents. The most populated, the Republican-held 3rd District in west St. Louis County, has 149,509 residents.

By law, the commissioners were required to get as close to the target number — one-seventh of the county’s population — of 143,446 residents in each district.

Federal civil rights law also requires that attention be paid to racial and ethnic minority groups to make sure new boundaries do not dilute their chance of electing a representative of their background.

The new council districts would apply to the November 2022 general election.

Elections for County Council seats are staggered every two years. Next year, voters will elect council members for the council’s four odd-numbered districts. The current incumbents are Council Chair Rita Heard Days, the 1st District; Fitch, R-3rd District; Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-5th District; and Councilman Mark Harder, R-7th District.(tncms-asset)33d0be3a-4976-11ec-846d-00163ec2aa77[0](/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)606dbd70-4675-11ec-b7bd-00163ec2aa77[1](/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)0d6e419e-43c8-11ec-8d59-00163ec2aa77[2](/tncms-asset)

> Committee OKs remap plan for St. Louis, setting up debate, A3

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Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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