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Monday, November 14, 2011

Newport meeting of the RI Redistricting Committee, October 19

October 19, 2011,  Community College of Rhode Island

Committee Members in attendance: Sen. Michael McCaffrey, Rep. Grace Diaz, Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, Rep. Joseph Trillo, Sen. Juan M. Pichardo, Sen. David Bates, Franicis Flanagan, Matthew F. Gunnip, Arthur V. Strother, Sr.

Committee member Rep. Daniel P. Riley, who represents District 72, Middletown, Newport, and Portsmouth) was not present.

There were perhaps 5 members of the public, including me, at the meeting. Others in attendance were Rep. Peter Martin of Newport, Sen. Teresa Paiva-Weed, Rep Raymond Gallison District 79), Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (District 74). Joe Baker of the Newport Daily News and Rick O’Neil, head of Newport’s Board of Canvassers were also in attendance.

The meeting began at about 7:10. Kimball Brace announced that he was trying to organize to have a member of the US Census Regional Bureau in Boston come and speak to the committee tomorrow. Mr. Brace did not explain why this representative would be coming to speak, but I suspect that it was in relation to Rep Trillo’s concerns about the number of vacant houses listed in the 2010 census.

Mr. Brace also noted that there were new updates on the web site and people can also sign up for latest commission reports from the site. He noted that videos and records of the meetings are available on the redistricting website. (http://www.riredistricting.com/commission/meetings)

Mr. Brace pointed out  that the bottom (the southern) part of the state seems to be the most impacted by loss of population. Newport County is in that part of the state. Newport and the town of Middletown have lost almost 7% each, almost 4,000 people total. The Middletown loss is the largest percentage in the state. In some census blocks, the loss is up to 26%. Population increases are primarily in Providence County.  These changes, he notes, will most dramatically affect the house districts, but the senate districts will be affected as well.

[It had been reported in the Newport Daily News on October 18 in advance of the meeting that with these changes in population, the legislative district lines will all be pushed northward from Newport County.]
Mr. Brace then showed maps of the “vacant houses” in the state. He compared them in various ways to show that the percent of vacant houses (which in the area are seasonal, summer homes) is similar to the situation in 2000.

The decrease in population may not be related to the vacant houses. He noted, for example, that the town clerk in So. Kingston pointed out to him that in 2000, the census might have found a family of four, 2 adults and 2 children, but in 2010, those children are gone. The census data backs this up because the median age  is rising especially in the southern part of the state, showing an aging population. This interpretation was further backed up by the decrease in family size indicated by the census.

Mr. Brace added that he had spoken to the Newport Tax Assessor on Wednesday and that conversation confirmed that interpretation. He said the assessor noted that many of the homes in Newport were owned by people who lived elsewhere.

Mr. Brace also noted that the census takers returned 6 times to all the houses. All of this was by way of explaining the decrease in population in the southern part of the state and why that decrease was not caused by the number of vacant houses or people not being counted. Representative Trillo asked if perhaps these houses were called vacant because the seasonal residents don’t arrive until after April 1.

Sen. Picardo asked if RI must use the US Census numbers? Can we count another way? Can the state do its own census? Mr. Brace explained that there was only one successful court case for using something other than the census. That occurred in Hawaii and was related to the counting of members of the military. He pointed out that doing a census was very expensive and he did not see that as an alternative in the current state economic climate.

Rep. Peter Martin was the only person who made comments. He represents Newport and noted that there are many “dark” houses in the city (by this he means they are not lived in for part of the year). He reported anecdotally that when he canvases in his district, he is surprised at the number of people who are actually registered elsewhere (that is in their primary states or cities of residence). He noted that there is a lot of student housing in Newport for Salve Regina University, and those people would have been counted on their parents’ census. Other anomalies were the number of military families and retirees who lived in the area.
After his remarks the meeting ended at about 7:45.

Mr. Brace invited members to come up and speak to Ryan Taylor and draw their neighborhood on a map. Ryan said that among other things this information may be used in helping to draw city ward districts. I showed Ryan my neighborhood and directed him to the Alliance for a Livable Newport which has neighborhood association members. I later emailed Ryan to give him the contact information for ALN.

I also spoke to Joe Baker, political reporter for the Newport Daily News. He asked to speak to me since I was one of the few members of the public there. I explained that I was a resident of Newport, but was there to represent the League. He asked if there was anything that I heard that surprised me and I basically said that because I was a League member I had been following the process and so was pretty well informed about the committee and its actions up to that point.

As I was leaving, I was approached by Tom Corderre, chief of staff for Sen. Paiva-Weed. I think it was the League button that served as the entrée or the fact that I was one of the few people who was not known to the others in the room. I explained I was a resident but was there to observe the meeting for the League and he said, “Oh, the League has been at all the meetings, hasn’t it?”
Nice to be noticed!
Patty MacLeish

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