A group of black and Hispanic community leaders in Colorado Springs is keeping a close eye on the redrawing of City Council districts and hoping the new boundaries give a minority a better chance of winning election.
The Black/Latino Coalition wants the City Clerk's Office to draw a council district in the heart of the most racially diverse area of southeast Colorado Springs, increasing the likelihood of minority representation.
"If you take a look at it, the greatest crime, the greatest poverty, the worst apartments, the (most at-risk) schools, are all in that area," coalition co-chairman Willie Breazell said Friday. "Hopefully we can get some elected representation to shed some light on that and try to fix that."
The clerk's office anticipates releasing a "preliminary draft" of the new districts by mid-August, Deputy City Clerk Cindy Conway said.
"Typically, you're able to work within the numbers you have," she said. "This one here will be an entire redraw."
That's because the city is moving from four council districts to six. The increase in district seats for the nine-member council was part of the voter-approved switch to a strong-mayor form of government.
"This is just going to be one of those years that is going to be a complete revamp of the system," Conway said.
Joe Barrera, the other coalition co-chairman, said the southeast part of the city needs a council representative who has a better understanding of the area's needs.
"We don't have any representation at the moment that specifically is focused on the needs of the southeast quadrant of town. While some of the present incumbents may dispute that, nevertheless, I think that's a fair statement," he said.
Councilman Bernie Herpin, who represents part of southeast Colorado Springs and whose term expires next year, said he believes he has been a good representative.
"I've never had anyone contact me that I didn't respond to," he said.
"I understand where they're coming from because I'm not perhaps a Latino or a minority. But I do live in this area and I have for 32 years," he said. "I'm here to serve."
Herpin said he is "leaning" toward running for reelection but that he's waiting on the redistricting process before making a final decision.
The clerk's office uses precinct information from the county and population, census and other data from an outside company to draw the districts. Precincts cannot be divided, and the districts must be of "substantially equal population," Conway said.
Coincidentally, Herpin and at-large Councilwoman Brandy Williams, also up for re-election in April, live in the same precinct. Williams did not respond to requests for comment about whether or not she planned to seek reelection.
The other council members whose terms expire in April are Lisa Czelatdko, Angela Dougan, Scott Hente and Tim Leigh.
Czelatdko did not return requests for comment but has said in the past that she is undecided. Dougan said she feels "strongly" that she will run again, and Leigh said he hasn't decided. Hente is term-limited, which means he can't run again.
Under the city code, the final map must be issued at least 120 days before the general municipal election in April but no more than 150 days before. That means the new districts must be finalized between Nov. 3 and Dec. 3, Conway said. The city will hold public hearings on the new districts, though no dates have been set.
"You can only protest based the grounds that the districts are contrary to law or to the spirit and intent of the (city) charter," Conway said.
Sam Mamet, director of the Colorado Municipal League, said the "vast majority" of cities in the state redraw council boundary lines without much rancor.
"There is rarely a dispute because municipal elections are nonpartisan," he said in an email. "The only recent example of controversy did occur during the Denver council redistricting, but that really has been the exception to the rule."
Joshua Dunn, a political science professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, said he didn't know whether the city's redistricting would become controversial.
"Look, if politicians are involved, it's going to be political," he said. "How political, though, it'll depend."
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