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City aldermen settle on new ward line plan

Brookhaven aldermen have tentatively agreed to a redistricting plan for the city, though it has not been officially approved.

     Under the new map, most of what is presently the northern part of Ward Five would become Ward Six, making Six the largest of the city’s wards, with a population of 2,165.

     Most other changes would be less dramatic and occur primarily in the middle of Brookhaven, with Ward One moving a little to the west in some areas and Ward Three moving slightly farther north.

     Ward Two remains almost unchanged with only a slight expansion on its northern border, and Ward Four retains most of its current lines, except for the loss of some northwestern areas to Ward Five.

     City aldermen, except for Alderman At Large Karen Sullivan, met Friday afternoon at the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District in Jackson, where they could see ward lines redrawn and receive an evaluation of a given plan’s legality in real time.

     Aldermen praised Friday’s apparent success as a triumph of compromise and teamwork.

     “I think everyone is saying hello to someone new, and saying goodbye to someone old,” Ward Four’s Shirley Estes said of the new map. “That’s the way it has to be.”

     Much of Friday’s discussion revolved around Ward Six Alderman David Phillips’ desire to maintain current levels of white voting age population. The 2010 census identified approximately 42 percent of Ward Six’s voting age population as white and about 55.8 percent of the ward as black.

     An earlier map proposed by redistricting consultants lowered the white voting age population to about 36 percent.

     “I just requested that it at least maintain its 2010 levels,” Phillips said. “And if it’s majority black, I’m fine with that.”

     Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates suggested redistricting shouldn’t be used to reverse demographic trends.

     “You’ve got a race moving out and a race moving in,” Bates said.

     Under the plan aldermen seem likely to approve, whites comprise about 45.5 percent of the voting age population in Ward Six and blacks about 51.8 percent.

     Phillips said he wasn’t seeking the increase in white voting percentage the plan gives Ward Six.

     “I’m not asking to be bumped up five points, but I sure don’t want to be bumped down five points,” Phillips said.

     In a similar move, Mary Wilson of Ward Three requested the black population of her ward be increased.

     Under current population numbers, Wards One, Two and Three are considered minority wards, with One at 88.7 percent black, Two at 85.4 percent black and Three at 67.9 percent black.

     “If I could gain some black percentage that’d be super OK, because I’m kind of low,” Wilson said at one point. “Could someone give me some?”

     Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron agreed to have some of Ward One’s city blocks drawn into Ward Three, moving its black percentage slightly upward to 68.43 percent.

     Under the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Department of Justice must provide preclearance for redistricting plans in Mississippi and other states with a history of suppressing minority voters.

     The U.S. Department of Justice considers a ward with a minority population greater than 65 percent to be a minority ward. The Department of Justice will not approve a plan that takes a minority ward below 65 percent unless there’s justification for it, such as a dramatic drop in population.

     There were several heated moments Friday, particularly between Phillips and D.W. Maxwell of Ward Five.

     Under dispute was the portion of Brookway Boulevard to the east of Highway 51. Under current lines, that area is in Ward Five, but several early redistricting drafts placed that area in Ward Six.

     “It’s in my ward and I have a right to keep it,” Maxwell said at one point, insisting he would not allow the contentious area to be drawn out of Ward Five.

      “I’m not listening to your crap today,” Phillips told Maxwell. “You’re not running this show. You’re only one of six.”

     The area in question remains in Ward Five under the proposed plan. When asked, Phillips said he ultimately conceded it due to the need to keep his ward within population limits.

     The earliest aldermen could approve the map is when they hold their next city council meeting May 8.

     Aldermen typically meet on the first Tuesday of each month. However, due to a conference, the May 1 meeting has been moved to May 8.