The Hempstead Town Board has approved a $5,000 contract for a private firm to help with the town's coming redistricting process -- the first step of a procedure that will set voting districts for America's largest township for the next decade.
The town board voted, 4-0, Tuesday on the contract with Schenectady-based Skyline Demographic Consultants Inc., charged with analyzing population data that will be used by the town attorney's office in redrawing the six-district map. The Republican-controlled board would then vote on the new map, but residents, Democratic and civic leaders at the board meeting called for the panel to create a bipartisan redistricting commission.
"Not only should Republicans, Democrats and all the political parties have access to the process, but groups concerned with fairness and good government should all be included and participate," said Bob Young, first deputy leader of the town Democratic Committee.
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.
Young also called for a commission that would hold public hearings in each district about the proposed map. Supervisor Kate Murray said the board has not determined if it will have more than one redistricting hearing, scheduled for March 19.
Skyline served as a consultant for the Republican members of the 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 Monday, despite criticism it will split minority and other communities.
"It seems to me this $5,000 is relatively small considering how much they charged Nassau County," said Claudia Borecky, president of the North and Central Merrick Civic Association. "I wonder how this deal was made."
Murray said in response, "This is a separate government; we don't share contracts." She added the town's 2003 redistricting process was "successful."
Town Attorney Joseph Ra said his office chose Skyline because the consulting firm was qualified. He said the professional service contract was not required to be put out for bids.
Ra also addressed concerns that Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, the only Democrat and the first African-American woman on the town board, was absent from the board meeting. Goosby is at an upstate conference of the Association of Towns of the State of New York.
"Councilwoman Goosby is on top of this process from A to Z," Ra said.