State law says Brookhaven has two aldermen too many

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 9, 2001

New census totals that drop Brookhaven’s population under10,000, municipal elections and pending annexation have combined tocreate an uncertain future for the city.

Census 2000 totals give the city a population of 9,861, adecline of 382 from 1990’s total 10,243. Under state law governingBrookhaven’s mayor-alderman form of government, cities withpopulations of less than 10,000 are to have five aldermen insteadof seven.

“That’s the breaking point,” said Mayor Bill Godbold about the10,000 population level.

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However, city elections for seven aldermen — based on the 1990total — begin with primaries on May 1. Godbold said elections willproceed as scheduled.

Phil Carter, special assistant attorney general, said the timingof the census release and the city elections created an “awkwardsituation.”

“It’s unfortunate the census figures come out right before anelection,” Carter said.

He said the course of action would be to go forward withelections as planned.

“As a practical matter, there’s no way to have an election undera five-alderman system,” Carter said, pointing out there is notenough time to redistrict and get Justice Department approval of anew plan.

Carter said the city could petition circuit court for anelection postponement but, “absent a court order, you have to haveelections on May 1.”

Under a five-alderman plan, according to the law, all could beelected on an at-large basis, or there could be four wards with oneboard member elected at-large. That decision is left to the city’sgoverning board, but there is also a process where citizens cancall for an election on how aldermen will be chosen.

Under the city’s current board set up, six aldermen are electedfrom wards and one is chosen on an at-large basis.

Census 2000 totals for Lincoln County as a whole show apopulation increase from 30,278 to 33,166.

With the 2000 totals, Carter said city ward representation couldbe challenged in court, and the city would have to redistrict forfive wards. The courts would decide whether new elections wouldhave to be held or if the city could continue with seven aldermenuntil the next regular election.

Annexation that brings city population back over 10,000 couldalter that scenario, Carter said. The need for ward redistrictingwould then be more contingent on whether the wards are”malapportioned,” meaning that they all do not have roughly thesame number of people.

Other city officials expressed a desire to prevent a migrationof residents out of the city and to attract more to themunicipality.

“That’s got to be our focus the next four years, doing somethingto keep people and to bring more in,” said Ward 2 Alderman TerryBates.

Ward 4 Alderman John Roberts, who like Bates is in his 12th yearon the board, recalled city officials’ efforts in 1990 to recountthe population to get it over 10,000. Roberts cited financialreasons for having higher population totals.

“We need that ad valorem (property) base,” Roberts said.