Charles Town moves ahead to balance 4 wards’ makeup

CHARLES TOWN – City leaders will seek legal advice to settle the redrawing of city ward boundaries, Mayor Peggy Smith told City Council members Monday night. The topic continues to create controversy.

Smith said she will contact Teresa Helmick of the Charleston firm of Steptoe and Johnson.

She said the city worked with the firm to avoid a lawsuit when the election in Ward 4 ended in a tie in 2007.

Jefferson County redrew the magisterial map three years ago following the 2010 U.S. Census. County officials redrew municipal precinct wards to reflect population growth, but the city ward boundaries were not changed.

Charles Town is divided into four wards with two members representing each district. City officials say the current ward population estimates break down this way: Ward 1 – 658; Ward 2 – 2,206; Ward 3 – 1,445; and Ward 4 – 693.

On Monday, Councilman Mark Reinhart of Ward 1 said the Aug. 4 vote on the ordinance to make the ward populations better balanced may have come in violation of council rules.

After the meeting, Reinhart gave a reporter the council rules document that states, “In the absence of both the Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem and a quorum still being in attendance, the present members will elect the chair and that member will assume the duties to the Mayor.”

The mayor and mayor pro-tem Councilman Rich Bringewatt of Ward 4 were not present when the vote took place, but City Manager David Mills ran the meeting and a quorum of council members was present, according to city clerk Kiya Tabb.

Reinhart said he wanted to make sure everything was legal before moving on. The council is set to take its final vote on the ordinance Sept. 2, a Tuesday because the regular Monday meeting falls on Labor Day.

Once the ordinance is passed, Mills and staff will draw up maps to present to council.

An Aug. 15 memo from Mills to Smith also became the subject of discussion. Mills’ memo detailed a plan to have one representative for each ward and four at-large council members and a charter change by ordinance.

Both Councilwoman Ann Paonessa of Ward 3 and Bringewatt said devising a new charter would take too much time. They said they wanted the ward situation solved before the next election cycle in 2015. Reinhart referred to the plan as “diluting the representation from different geographic parts of the city.”

Mills said the memo was only a suggestion. “It’s up to council,” he said. “It was notes from staff. It could possibly be used in a workshop session.”

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