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New redistrict map garners support

Brookhaven aldermen have reviewed a fourth redistricting map, a map that seems have captured the majority’s favor, although dissent persists.

     Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell presented fellow aldermen with a new redistricting proposal at a work session last Tuesday night. He drew the map with the aid of redistricting consultants hired by the city.

     Maxwell called the plan the “most perfect one” drawn so far, as its division of the city’s population among the wards differs less than 1 percent from a completely equal distribution of 2,086 people in each ward.

     In addition to Maxwell, Ward Four Alderman Shirley Estes, Ward Six Alderman David Phillips and Alderman at Large Karen Sullivan all said they could rally behind the new map.

     Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron, who has expressed reservations about all prior plans, offered a tentatively positive evaluation of Maxwell’s map.

     “I favor this map more than the ones I’ve seen,” Cameron said.

     Maxwell’s map would keep Wards Four, Five and Six largely unchanged from previous redistricting proposals reviewed by the board. However, Wards Two and Three would see much more significant shifts, and Ward One some minor changes.

     Ward Three would expand from the middle of the city to take in the far southeastern part of the city, currently held by Ward Two.

     Ward Two, which is fairly compact under current lines, would ramble through the downtown area and up into portions of what’s currently Ward Six.

     At first sight of Maxwell’s map, Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates took note of the rather sprawling nature of his ward.

     “Look at all this shuffling,” Bates said.

     However, Bates did not levy significant criticism at the map for any specific changes it made. Instead, he continued to lobby for a map drawn by consultants in March with no input from aldermen.

     Controversy has simmered over the fact that the map Bates favors decreases the white voting strength of Ward Six.

     Maxwell pointed out that his map retains Ward Six as majority black, and said Bates didn’t have the support of census numbers in his push to increase black voting strength in Ward Six.

     “The numbers are not there yet for what you want,” Maxwell said. “They will be, but they’re not there yet.”

     Bates seemed to agree with Maxwell as to the trend of demographic shifts, but drew different conclusions.

     “This will sort itself out in 10, 15 years, so we might as well accept it,” Bates retorted.

     Cameron has been a key player in the debate as the consultant’s map puts the Brignall area into Ward Six and Cameron wants to keep Brignall in his ward.

     “When we annexed, I knew the challenges up there,” Cameron said. “But I took it on. And now to give it up, I wouldn’t want to do that.”

     Ward Three Alderman Mary Wilson has joined Bates in support of the map drawn by consultants. She repeated that support but did deem Maxwell’s map fair.

     She also took a moment to assert her independence as an alderman.

     “Mr. Bates doesn’t have anything to do with my decision,” Wilson said. “I’m my own person around this board with my own vote.”

     Qualifying for next year’s city elections begins in January and a new map needs to be in place by then. Putting aldermen further under the gun is the fact that the redistricting plan must first be sent to the U.S. Justice Department, which may take up to 60 days to review the map. Even then, the Justice Department has the option of asking for more information.

     Aldermen are scheduled to hold a regular board meeting this Tuesday and conceivably may take up the matter and approve the map.

     Maxwell, though, isn’t counting on anything until the votes are cast.

     “I think most everybody likes it,” Maxwell said. “That doesn’t mean everyone is going to vote for it.”