MONTPELIER — What does Montpelier’s Board of Civil Authority have in common with a map of the Capital City under a recently released legislative redistricting proposal? Both are near-evenly divided.

In what City Clerk John Odum fairly characterized Wednesday night as a “thin majority,” the board, which includes local justices of the peace, as well as City Council members, narrowly agreed to register its objection to a proposal that would divide Montpelier into two comparably sized single-member legislative districts.

The, 9-7, vote in favor of maintaining the city’s long-standing two-member district was even closer before Councilor Jack McCullough was reminded by Councilor Dona Bate he could vote in the absence of a tie despite his role as the board’s chairman.

McCullough did — turning what was a one-vote margin into a two-vote cushion which, while better, Odum noted was hardly a landslide.

“It’s such a close division it does seem a little unfair to have such a uniform statement,” he said of the plan to inform the Legislative Apportionment Board that Montpelier rejects its proposal to create two single-member legislative districts in the city.

Odum suggested “minority report” could be considered, though McCullough said a majority of the board had spoken and while it was more whisper than shout the same was true of the apportionment board, which voted, 4-3, in favor of a proposed statewide shift to single-member districts.

“It (the vote) reflects the close division of this board and the apportionment board,” he said.

Two schools of thought emerged during the near hour-long discussion that led up to the split vote.

Some — McCullough and Bate included — said they favored maintaining the status quo in a community that has elected its two state representatives in citywide races for nearly 40 years.

Absent a compelling reason to change that wasn’t readily apparent and he didn’t believe exists in Montpelier, McCullough said fixing a system that isn’t broken did not make sense.

“I really do not think that this is a proposal that we should adopt,” he said.

Others, including Mayor Anne Watson, said they were swayed by the equity-based arguments detailed in a letter from resident Paul Carnahan, who supported the proposed shift to two single-member districts — one with 4,114 residents and the other with 3,960, according to the just-completed census.

Though Watson acknowledged she had questions about how the apportionment board chose to split the city, she wasn’t prepared to tackle the task of drawing a more sensible line and wasn’t sure one exists.

Board member Robb Kidd shared that view.

“It does the best we can possibly do for representative democracy the way it’s divided,” he said. “Is it perfect? I don’t think it’s perfect … but I am accepting of the way the lines are drawn.”

Kidd and others who advocated the proposed shift to single-member districts said that wasn’t a reflection of dissatisfaction with the current arrangement or either of the city’s two incumbent lawmakers who both live on the same street on the fringe of one of the two proposed districts.

That fact was cause for pause for resident Johanna Nichols, who told the board she didn’t relish the prospect of potentially choosing between Rep. Mary Hooper and Rep. Warren Kitzmiller.

“I would feel much better if one of them decided … not … to run again … so we didn’t have to make a decision between two people we feel well represented by,” she said, describing both local lawmakers as “responsive and responsible.”

Hooper, who attended the meeting, said she wasn’t planning to speak in order to avoid any perception of “self-interest, but believed the shift to single-member districts could create confusion, potential “embarrassment” and wouldn’t result, in her view, in better representation.

“Under this proposal, I have to remember what the dividing line is,” she said. “It’s not Montpelier(‘s border), it’s some line that doesn’t make sense.”

The city currently elects its representatives to the Montpelier-Roxbury Public School Board and its two state representatives in at-large elections, while City Council members are elected in one of three districts.

From 1967 until 1982 Montpelier elected lawmakers from three separate single-member districts. That changed based on the census-driven redistricting plan that was adopted in 1982.

Monday is the deadline for cities and towns around the state to respond to the apportionment board’s proposal with respect to their communities. The Legislature will ultimately approve some version of the redistricting plan next session and the changes will set the stage for next November’s elections.


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