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Assembly looks at three ways to re-do its election district boundaries

Rosemary Shinohara

A consultant on Friday presented the Anchorage Assembly with three options for changing Assembly district boundaries to match population changes identified in the 2010 census. And all of them left some Assembly members dissatisfied.

The consultant, E-Terra LLC, developed the alternatives at the direction of a three-member Assembly committee that has been meeting quietly since July.

Since there were only three Assembly members participating, the committee was not required under city law to meet in public or give public notice -- and it didn't. City law mandates that if four or more Assembly members get together, it's a public meeting.

Some Assembly members saw the results for the first time Friday in a work session at City Hall, and several said they were upset with aspects of the process.

The Assembly is divided into six geographic districts. Five of the districts have two members, and the sixth district, the downtown area, has one member and is half the size of the other districts. The Assembly has 11 members.

The Assembly's decision on how to reconfigure the districts will affect elections for Assembly seats in April.

The consultant's three proposals all clean up district lines by getting rid of split precincts, and they all even out the number of people living in each district, said Assemblyman Chris Birch, chairman of the Assembly reapportionment committee.

They differ in what part of town would become a single-member district.

One choice leaves downtown as the single-member district and would not require any Assembly members to switch districts, said Dick Traini, another committee member.

Traini said he is preparing to introduce that version at Tuesday's Assembly meeting, for public hearing at a later meeting.

Another choice would make the East Anchorage district the single-member district, potentially throwing east side incumbents Adam Trombley and Paul Honeman into competition for one seat. Trombley's term expires in 2014, but Honeman is up for re-election in 2013.

City attorney Dennis Wheeler said if the east side became a single-member district it would be up to the Assembly to figure out what to do about the terms of affected Assembly members.

A third choice would create a smaller, one-representative district in Midtown and enlarge the downtown district.

Honeman was frustrated with the reapportionment process. Two of three Assembly committee members -- Birch and Traini -- are Republicans, he said. Assembly chairman Ernie Hall, the third committee member, is not registered with any party. Neither is Honeman.

Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson also took issue with the political makeup of the committee. "It would be better if there were diversity," she said.

Honeman and Harriet Drummond noted one of the consultant's partners in E-Terra, Frank McQueary, has been an officer of the Alaska Republican Party.

"It appears to be a real travesty; partisanship is creeping in," Honeman said.

Steve Colligan, the other E-Terra partner, said McQueary has not been involved in this project.

"There are only so many people who can accomplish the work," Birch said, defending the selection of E-Terra.

To charges that it was a Republican-dominated process, Birch said, "I don't think that's fair."

The Assembly declared itself malapportioned in July, based on an analysis of the population in each Assembly district as of the 2010 census.

The city charter says the Assembly must reapportion whenever the district-to-district numbers get out of whack.

The analysis showed more than 10 percent variation from the smallest-population, two-member district, East Anchorage, to the largest-population, two-member district, South Anchorage.

The July declaration set in motion the development of options for reapportioning.

Each two-member district should have about 53,000 people, and the one-member district should have half that, Birch said.

Assemblyman Patrick Flynn, who represents the single-member downtown district, said he asked the Assembly committee to at least look at rotating the single-member district to another part of town.

At one time, Chugiak and Eagle River had a single representative, Flynn said. Then Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson (now combined as JBER) and a piece of Muldoon were added to Chugiak-Eagle River and the bigger district got two members.

"Elmendorf and Fort Richardson have zero municipal services" except for a couple of schools, Flynn said. Since the two Eagle River-Chugiak Assembly members don't have to actively represent the military installation, other residents of the district are overrepresented, he contends.

Proposed new Anchorage Assembly district maps