MARENGO – An initial discussion on whether to redraw the city wards in Marengo turned political, as an alderman critical of city administration clashed with the mayor over his intentions.
Using voter data from 2013, Mayor Don Lockhart approached the City Council earlier this week about realigning the city's four aldermanic wards, pointing out that the city's population has changed since the last time the council did redistricting in 1999 with data from the 1990 U.S. Census.
As discussion started, Ward Four alderman Dennis Hammortree called the effort a political move by Lockhart, questioned the timing of the proposal and even requested to stay in his home ward.
The former Marengo mayor, who is a frequent "no" vote on the council's roll calls, later told the Northwest Herald that Lockhart will use the remap as a way to draw him out of Ward Four and threaten his re-election chances by pitting him in a contested ward once his term expires in 2017.
"I was an alderman for five years and a mayor for five years," Hammortree said. "I know the games that are played, and that's what's going on here."
During the meeting on Monday, Lockhart showed little patience for Hammortree and his insinuation that a redistricting effort was a political power play.
The 2013 voter data shows an imbalanced number of registered voters between the city's four wards, with Hammortree's Ward Four having the most and Ward Three having the least.
Since the last remap in 1999, the city's population has increased nearly 57 percent when comparing Census figures, Lockhart said.
"Dennis, I'm not going to get into it. Here's the answer: it's time to do it ... Don't bring politics into it," Lockhart said. "It isn't political. It's something that needs to be done to make the wards equal in this city."
The council ultimately directed staff to redraw the ward boundaries, although many aldermen had questions about how it would affect their current terms. All eight aldermen representing the four wards would be allowed to finish their elected terms.
If an alderman is drawn into a ward that already has two council members, he would serve at-large until his term ends and then have to decide to run for re-election in his new ward, said City Attorney Carlos Arevalo.
City officials will now use 2010 Census data that details population totals at each city block in Marengo to develop a map, using state standards that district boundaries have to be compact, contiguous and substantially equal in population.
The council will have to approve a new ward map before it can take effect.