UPDATED Nov. 30: The Select Board on Nov. 22 unanimously voted to support the reprecincting map recommended by Arlington’s Reprecincting Working Group. The board voted, 5-0, Monday, Nov. 29, to support that plan, which is to be sent to the secretary of state's office Nov. 30.
The recommended map redraws precincts to accommodate future growth and provide opportunity for increased diversity in Town Meeting.
The other reprecincting option was the limited-change map, which makes only necessary changes to rebalance the population.
See the map with limited changes as well as the one that was recommended.
The Reprecincting Working Group consisted of Julie Brazile, town clerk; Jillian Harvey, director of diversity, equity and inclusion; Adam Kurowski, director of GIS/systems analyst (who has since left town employment); and Kelly Lynema, assistant director, Department of Planning and Community Development.
Massachusetts communities must reexamine their precinct boundaries every 10 years based on new census data.
Recommended plan aims to make Arlington more inclusive
“The recommended map will open up opportunities for more inclusion among residents,” said Harvey.
The reprecincting requirements are to rebalance the population, protect minority voting rights,and have compact and contiguous communities of interest in currently underrepresented neighborhoods, explained Brazile.
In creating the recommended map, “We worked to avoid split precincts, limit the number of precincts impacted, increase similarities within precincts and identify precincts where we can make improvements, such as the Mass. Ave. corridor,” said Brazile.
“The equity-opportunity outcomes aim to have precincts with fewer incumbents, more racial minority opportunity and more similar characteristics, such as household income, density and renters vs. owners. As for the Finance Committee, 20 of the 21 current members could continue to serve,” added Brazile.
Harvey said the reprecincting goals used data to consider precincts’ characteristics; identify communities of interest; respect Arlington’s diversity, equity and inclusion goals; and increase diversity in Town Meeting. “This is a fair representation, not only of the racial composition, but the use of transportation,” she said. “It’s a lifelong commitment, even if we have to make unpopular decisions.”
“Our values are: diversity, belonging, inclusion, equity and to build empathy and make everyone seen and feel welcome. Diverse populations need to be included and involved in the decision-making process. Different people need different things because of our country’s historic institutionalism of racism,” said Harvey.
“Working toward equity takes time. We’re trying to break the internalized sense of oppression, where people have a significant sense of a lack of belonging. Folks who’ve never had an opportunity to be heard will now have that chance to feel welcome, and that others aren’t making choices for them,” added Harvey.
Select Board supports increasing diversity
Board member Eric Helmuth said: “The Reprecincting Working Group, who have advanced degrees in urban planning, believe that over the next 10 years, demographic trends will make their recommended map more favorable to those not currently represented.”
“These are not large changes, but rather incremental changes that could lead to more and a fairer representation in Town Meeting, whose members are typically older, and homeowners. If we don’t try, nothing will change structurally that’ll change the status quo. The recommended map creates more precincts that are less dominated by single family homes,” added Helmuth.
Board member John Hurd said, “This type of change puts us directly in line with the goal of increasing diversity, equity and inclusion. Although change is hard, it’s a step in the right direction that sends out a signal that we’re interested in increasing diversity in town government."
Board member Diane Mahon said, “We should try something different, and town leaders are committed to this. It may not produce any substantive changes in the next few years, but the best chance for increased representation is to keep putting in reprecincting efforts by little steps. We hope this can be the building block if we have to go through this again in 10 years.”
She added: “If you’re a renter or an ethnic minority and we create new precincts, and the people we hope run do run, the town needs to speak the words/language to those who can barely afford to live here. They have trust issues and feel they’re not wanted.”
Board member Len Diggins said, “Resilience comes from being more diverse and inclusive. It’s important to try new things and then assess them.”
Town residents weigh in
Approximately a dozen Arlington residents expressed their opinions during the meeting, and were almost evenly split on which reprecincting map they prefer. (However, all 15 emails sent by residents to the Select Board favor the limited-changes plan.)
“We take input from the town very seriously,” said board Chair Steve DeCourcey.
Favor recommended map:
Annie LaCourt, Precinct 15 meeting member: “If we’re committed to an equitable Arlington, we need to be prepared for discomfort, take chances, and choose the recommended map because it was created by the experts.”
Paul Schlichtman, Precinct 9 member: “Minimal change is the same as keeping the status quo, and doesn’t advance the cause of equity. If we have to make changes, let’s do the right thing and choose the map preferred by the town clerk.
Lynn Bishop, Precinct 13 member: “I moved to Arlington because of the way we celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion, and the recommended plan honors these goals.”
Judith Garber: “We need all voices represented in Town Meeting to make changes.”
Ian Goodsell, Precinct 11 member: "The recommended-changes map makes sense. However, I’m concerned about the drastic change of polling locations for a majority of the town.”
Alex Bagnall, Precinct 7 member: “To choose the least-changed map sends a message that we can talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, but won’t take the necessary actions.”
Prefer limited-changes plan:
Elizabeth Pyle, Precinct 8 meeting member: “I don’t think the recommended map will achieve the goals of increasing diversity in Town Meeting, especially without sufficient outreach.”
Don Seltzer: “Redrawing lines to deliberately create open seats to elect more renters to Town Meeting is not the answer. The correct question is, “How do we get more underrepresented residents involved in town government?”
Carl Wagner: “The recommended option, made by only four people, will cause a lot of change for hundreds of people at Town Meeting, and kick more members out. It won’t make changes for racial and other protected groups, and could seem like gerrymandering.”
Lynette Culverhouse: “Nothing would delight me more than if in redrawing maps, we’ll magically have underrepresented community members run for Town Meeting and other leadership positions. But that won’t happen without a lot of town support and outreach to engage diverse voices in town.
Elizabeth Dray, Precinct 8 member: “I applaud the goals of increasing diversity, equity and inclusion. However, this process doesn’t feel right to me―it’s frantic, constantly changing and not transparent.
“At first, the goal was to save money and increase voter turnout for Town Meeting. Then the goal was to increase diversity, but redrawing precinct lines won’t automatically make Town Meeting more diverse. Now it’s where Town Meeting members should live, but the data doesn’t show that either. The town needs to focus on fair and equitable town elections. The new precincting map must include a strategic plan, and how it will increase voter turnout in these communities.”
See the entire Nov. 22 broadcast on ACMi:
This news summary, by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert, was published Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, and updated Nov. 30, to add vote and ACMi vidoe window.