Aldermen ward line redistrict plan stirs tense talk

Published 8:00 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Discussion by city aldermen of redistricting turned tense Tuesday night, and a quick resolution to points of contention seems unlikely.

     Disputed areas include portions of downtown and Brookway Boulevard.

     Mayor Les Bumgarner gave aldermen maps, drawn by a consulting agency, at a previous board meeting. The maps offered a proposed redistricting plan that meets the requirements of equalizing ward population and ensuring minority voting strength is not diluted.

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     Ward Three’s Mary Wilson, who rarely speaks at board meetings, was vocal in opposing the proposal’s lines for her ward.

     “I’m not going to accept mine unless the Justice Department tells me I have to,” Wilson said.

     Under the proposed map, Ward Three would move up as far north as Industrial Park Road, which Wilson finds objectionable.

     “I don’t feel Ward Three has any business going up into there,” Wilson said after the meeting.

     Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Justice Department must approve all redistricting plans in Mississippi, but the department does not tell any municipality or legislative body what lines it must draw as Wilson suggested.

     Once the board approves a plan, it must be submitted to the U.S. Justice Department for pre-clearance. The department may approve it, reject it or request more information.

     Wilson also said that under the proposal Wards Three and Six simply exchange areas of town without any reason that she can see.

     “There’s a lot of Six that’s been thrown into Three,” Wilson said.

     In the map, Ward Three loses parts of downtown, including portions of West Cherokee Street, West Monticello Street and West Court Street. Ward Six would take those streets. From Ward Six, Ward Three would take the area immediately to the east of North Jackson Street.

     Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell also has his eye on retaining some property.

     “(Ward Six Alderman) David (Phillips) is getting quite a bit of my district and some of it’s property I would like to keep,” Maxwell said.

     Ward Five loses Brookway Boulevard to the east of Highway 51 to Ward Six under the proposed plan.

     Maxwell suggested the board hold a work session and meet a representative of the consulting agency. Bumgarner instead offered to take any suggestions aldermen have to the consultant and bring back new maps.

     Ward One’s Dorsey Cameron didn’t take to that idea.

     “We don’t need an intermediary,” Cameron said.

     Ward Two’s Terry Bates at one point suggested the 2013 municipal elections could be held under the current lines, but the board’s attorney Joe Fernald emphasized federal law requires redistricting following the 2010 Census and before the next election.

     The discussion ended with a consensus that a work session should be held, but no date was set.