ROGERS -- The City Council will decide today whether to accept city ward maps that do not divide the city's population equally, a feature designed to give the growing areas some room.
"The city staff asked us to draw maps giving the high-growth areas something on the low side of the population range," said Jeff Hawkins, the now-retired director of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission who oversaw the drawing of the maps. "If we didn't do that, the wards would be out of balance again very soon."
The council will consider new ward boundary lines in a special meeting at 4 p.m. today at City Hall, members decided at their latest meeting Tuesday. The council will consider two maps prepared by the regional planning commission, but is not bound to those options alone, Mayor Greg Hines said.
Two council members are elected from each of the city's four wards. Council members run in citywide elections, but the ward system ensures different portions of the city have representation on the eight-member governing body. The city redraws ward maps after each U.S. census to divide up the city population equally. The U.S. Census Bureau conducts a nationwide census every 10 years.
Maps of the two options being considered, along with existing ward maps, are available on the city website.
Rogers' population reached 69,908 on April 1, 2020, according to the census. The city's population in the 2010 census was 55,964, U.S. Census Bureau figures show.
The regional planning commission, at the city's request, took the new census data and found Rogers' Ward 3 in the city's southwest had 21,946 residents, compared to the 15,473 in Ward 1 in the northeast, the lowest-populated ward. Another 16,003 lived in Ward 2 in the northwest and 16,486 in Ward 4 in the southeast.
The commission drew boundaries dividing the population equally at first, Hawkins said. City staff then asked the commission to try again and to give the growing portions of the city some room to grow.
Another consideration with the initial ward proposal, Hawkins said, was it put three or more of the city's incumbent council members in the same ward.
"That's a terrible position to put members of a council in, to vote on whether to put fellow council members in a race against each other or whether to drop out," he said. "I try to avoid that whenever possible."
Leaving gaps in population won't create a legal problem for the city so long as those gaps do not exceed about 10% between the highest and lowest population counts, Hawkins said. Gaps of up to about 10% between populations were deemed acceptable in previous court cases in the state, he said.
Marge Wolf, Rogers council member for Ward 2, Position 2, and Betsy Reithemeyer of Ward 4, Position 2 both have council seats up for election next year. Both said they have seen the revised maps with room for growth in the southwest and see no obvious problems with either the initial or revised ones. However, both also said in phone interviews Thursday they would study the maps before the council meets Monday.
One of the two proposals being considered Monday would leave Ward 3 with 16,828 residents, using the April 1, 2020, numbers provided by the census. Ward 4 in southeast Rogers would have 16,574 and take in a portion of what is now the growing Ward 3. Ward 1 would retain 18,199, and Ward 2 18,307. The proposal would leave a 10.5% difference between Ward 4 and Ward 2.
The second proposal would put 17,887 residents, as of the census date, in Ward 1, 18,307 in Ward 2, 16,828 in Ward 3 and 16,886 in Ward 4. Again, Ward 4 would grow to the west to take in parts of what is now in Ward 3. This plan would leave a 10% gap between Ward 3 and Ward 2.
The May 1 death of Mark Kruger, the city's longest-serving council member, put impetus behind reaching a decision on ward boundaries, Hines told the council at its Tuesday meeting.
Before Kruger's death the council had plenty of time to adopt new maps before the 2024 election, the mayor said. Now the council must decide how to appoint a replacement to fill Kruger's unexpired term, which ends Dec. 31, 2024. Under state law, the council can either appoint a new member by majority vote or set a special election. The council will choose which option at its next regular meeting May 23. The replacement will serve out the rest of Kruger's term.
Whoever replaces Kruger will remain eligible to run for the seat in the 2024 election, when the new maps will be in effect. The council, city residents and whoever replaces Kruger should know what the new ward lines will look like, Hines said.
The Bentonville City Council approved new boundaries for its four council wards in February. Fayetteville and Springdale redrew their wards last year.
On the web
City of Rogers webpage with links to proposed and existing ward maps: