• 77°

Lines of Contention

Brookhaven aldermen have turned again to redistricting, and the racial composition of Ward Six has emerged as primary issue of contention.

     At a Thursday work session, aldermen reviewed the three maps presented thus far: a map drawn by redistricting consultants with no input by city leaders (a plan aldermen have named “Plan B”); a map drawn by Mayor Les Bumgarner, which has not received any serious consideration; and a plan drawn by aldermen at a work session in Jackson with redistricting consultants.

     A majority of four aldermen seems willing to pass the third map, but Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates pledged his support for Plan B.

     “That’s my map right there,” Bates said. “That map represents Brookhaven.”

     According to the 2010 census, about 42 percent of Ward Six is white and about 55 percent black. Plan B lowers white voting strength in the ward to almost 36 percent, a move Ward Six Alderman David Phillips has strongly opposed.

     The map drawn in Jackson puts the white population in Ward Six at about 45 percent and black population at about 51 percent.

     Phillips said he only wants to retain the demographics reported in the census and pointed out that his favored plan retains Ward Six as majority black.

     “It’s not like I’m trying to take the ward white,” Phillips said.

     However, speaking of the demographic shift away from the census that Plan B would implement, Bates cited approval.

     “That is what it was supposed to have done,” Bates said.

     Bates said Plan B represents Ward Six as it is right now. He believes the black population of the ward has risen above the numbers reported in the 2010 census.

     “This map is showing you where the voting strength should be,” Bates said.

     Ward Three Alderman Mary Wilson joined Bates in pledging firm support for Plan B.

     “They called this city the way it is,” Wilson said.

     After questioning by Phillips, Bates ultimately said he would vote for no other map than Plan B.

     “You’re making it where David can’t be elected,” said Mayor Les Bumgarner to Bates.

     Ward Four Alderman Estes pushed Bates on his support for Plan B.

     “Would you please tell us what your agenda is?” Estes said.

     “Brookhaven,” replied Bates.

     Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron requested another work session with consultants, but Bates seemed closed to further revisions.

     “Terry is dead set in concrete on B, so we might as well write him off,” Maxwell said.

     “Write me off, too,” Wilson said.

     With Phillips, Maxwell, Estes and Alderman at Large Karen Sullivan likely to support the map drawn in Jackson, or one similar, and Bates and Wilson against it, Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron has become key to redistricting.

     City attorney Joe Fernald told board members a narrow vote could doom the map with the U.S. Department of Justice, which must approve any redistricting plans in Mississippi.

     “If the vote breaks down on racial lines, the Justice Department will be down here,” Fernald said.

     However, Cameron spoke very little Thursday night. When he did so, he was noncommittal.

     “I do have some concerns about both maps,” Cameron said.

     Aldermen have tentatively scheduled another work session in Jackson with redistricting consultants next Thursday or Friday. It remains unclear how many aldermen plan to attend.