Hempstead Town is considering hiring a private firm to assist in redrawing its election district lines -- but Democratic and community leaders are asking the Republican-controlled town board to create a bipartisan commission before splitting America's largest township.
Schenectady-based Skyline Demographic Consultants Inc. would analyze population data to be used by the town attorney's office in redrawing the six-district map. The town board would vote on the new map, spokesman Michael Deery said. The board will propose a map before a redistricting hearing on March 19, Deery said.
"We're concerned the redistricting process is not going to be transparent," said Bob Young, first deputy leader of the town Democratic Committee. "People need to have a voice about what is going on and it cannot be decided by a small group of people."
Young called for a commission that would hold public hearings in each district.
The town board is expected to consider at Tuesday's meeting a $5,000 contract with Skyline, which served as a consultant to Nassau County's Temporary Districting Advisory Commission. The Republican-controlled county legislature is expected to approve a GOP-drawn map for new legislative districts on Feb. 25, despite criticism it will split minority and other communities.
"To put the redistricting process in the hands of a private firm takes it out of the public realm," said Hofstra University political science chairwoman Rosanna Perotti. "A bipartisan commission is more of a method of the democratic process and more transparent."
District maps are redrawn every 10 years as required by law, to account for demographic changes. The town's population of nearly 760,000 grew by 0.5 percent from 2000 to 2010, but the minority population grew much faster in areas such as Elmont, Valley Stream and Freeport, advocates and redistricting experts said.
"I've been concerned about what is happening with the redistricting," said Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, who represents predominantly minority areas such as Hempstead and Lakeview. "I don't want anyone encroaching upon councilmanic District 1."
Nationally known redistricting attorney Jeffrey M. Wice, who recently assisted Brookhaven Town and New York City, said both jurisdictions had a bipartisan commission and held several redistricting hearings.
"The Town of Hempstead needs to jump on the bandwagon for fair and transparent government," Wice said. "The more open of a redistricting process, the more solid the plan might be. Otherwise, it could open the door to other legal action."
Goosby, the only Democrat and the first African-American woman on the town board, sued Hempstead in 1988 and won in 1997 after charging its method of at-large districts discriminated against the minority community. A U.S. District Court judge later ordered a special election in November 2000 for the six seats.
"We look forward to adopting council district maps that continue to protect the voting power of minority communities," Deery said in a statement.