Nov 282011

By Linda Kor–

It was a difficult process but the Navajo County Board of Supervisors approved a redistricting map on Nov. 15 that will be forwarded to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for preclearance.

With the completion of the 2010 census the county now officially has more than 107,000 residents, an increase of 10.2 percent since 2000. The numbers show that the county’s Native American population grew about 1.4 percent to 46,483 persons, and the Hispanic population grew 44.4 percent to 8,011 persons. With that increase came a need to evaluate the county districts and Northland Pioneer College precincts.

A redistricting committee was appointed by the Board of Supervisors that held a total of more than 24 meetings, collecting input from the public either through map presentation or comment. The committee then selected three maps for consideration by the board.

In making the map selection, several factors were considered. First, each district should have a population close to the “ideal” district size of 21,490 persons; second, as much as possible, districts should be geographically compact and connected; and third, currently Districts I and II have the largest minority populations, mainly Native Americans, but there are some Hispanics in District II, but both districts need to be made larger in total population, but in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act, the new versions of those districts should not significantly reduce the proportions of voting-age minority residents.

The three maps provided by the committee were labeled map RB06, map TLP04 and map NNHRC/TLP04, which was a merger of TLP04 and a map presented by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission. As the board reviewed the three maps it was unanimously agreed to include map NNHRC in the maps to be reviewed, as it was part of the merger of the latter map.

When it was time for public comment, 13 speakers addressed the board, seven of whom were residents of Winslow concerned with the division of their community as each map showed the city divided into either two or three districts.

Resident Cathy Contreras told the board that she was disappointed with the split as it currently existed and felt that, as a community of interest, Winslow should be given the same consideration as Holbrook and Joseph City, adding that the Hispanic vote would be lost with a split. Another resident, Marie Sharar La Mar, associated the split as “… like getting a divorce. You get half as much at twice the cost.” While another resident, Tess Kenna, related it to being a wife with two husbands, “They are both always there and appreciated, but what a waste of energy.” It appeared as if most if not all of the residents from Winslow that were present were in support of map TLP04 as it only divided Winslow into two districts, District I and District II. That opinion shifted as City of Winslow Attorney Dale Patton presented another possibility.

He suggested the acceptance of NNHRC, if it could be slightly modified. Patton stated that the issue with that map is that it divided the city into two districts, giving one man half a vote. He proposed removing the prison (which is within Winslow city limits) from District II into District I and put the two halves of the city together in District II. This would allow for almost equal numbers to be swapped and kept within the deviation requirement of no more than 10 percent.

In order to consider the possibility and still be able to vote on the matter in that same day, the board took a two-hour recess in order for the map to be redrawn by Deputy County Attorney Jason Moore, Tony Sissons of Research Advisory Services, Ryan Taylor of Planning and Zoning, and Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission Director Leonard Gorman and determine if it would meet requirements.

After reconvening it was determined that the modification would meet all the requirements by the DOJ and give the city the unity they were hoping for. The unanimous approval by the board of the modified map labeled as BOS Plan 11-15-11 showed a total plan deviation of 6.92 percent, falling under the less than 10 percent requirement. It also shows 82.84 percent voting age Native Americans in District I and 67.66 percent voting age Native American in District II.

If the plan is approved by the DOJ and implemented, the City of Winslow will fall into District II, under Supervisor Jesse Thompson and will remove the city from District III, which falls under Supervisor J.R. DeSpain.

In final comments the board thanked all who participated in the process, but redistricting committee chairman Marlin Gillespie stated that he wasn’t certain there was a value to having all of the meetings.

“The only problem I have with the decision is that Navajo County has a long history of transparency to the public and the board has circumvented that with their decision of choosing a map that had not gone for public review,” he said.

Chairman David Tenney assured Gillespie that the process was indeed worthwhile as it allowed for the public to provide input and produced the maps that were used in the final decision.

If the DOJ approves preclearance, the changes in the districts will go into effect with the 2012 elections.

Map Courtesy of Navajo County

Map NNHRC is the map adopted by the board of Supervisors, with the revision of the BOS 11-15-11 that was later added.