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Board schedules hearing on redistricting plan

A public hearing on a redistricting plan city leaders recently approved was scheduled by aldermen Tuesday during a called board meeting.

     The hearing was scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 20, at 5:30 p.m. The decision to order a called meeting Tuesday and to schedule the hearing was a turnaround from last week when some city leaders suggested the public hearing wouldn’t be discussed until aldermen meet next week.

     At least one alderman Tuesday wondered why the matter couldn’t wait.

     “Is there a rush?” asked Terry Bates of Ward Two.

     Bates went on to cast the only vote against scheduling the hearing, with Ward Three Alderman Mary Wilson and Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron absent for the vote.

     Mayor Les Bumgarner indicated surprise at Bates’ vote.

     “You’re against having a public hearing?” he asked.

     Bates questioned whether the hearing should have been held before aldermen approved a redistricting plan. City Attorney Joe Fernald told Bates the public hearing is not legally required.

     Bates seemed incredulous. Later, he said he’d have to investigate the law on the matter.

     Speaking after the meeting, Bates sought to explain his vote. Bates supports public hearings, he said, but opposes the redistricting plan about which comments will be taken during the hearing.

     “I know we need a public hearing, but the plan we have I’m against,” Bates said. “So why would I vote to have a hearing?”

     Bates also said he objects to holding the hearing after the plan has been approved rather than before. Bates also cast the only dissenting vote when aldermen approved a redistricting plan several weeks ago in a 6-1 vote.

     Tentatively, each person that appears at the hearing will be allotted three minutes to speak, said Bumgarner.

     “We’re not going to stay forever and ever,” Bumgarner said.

     Ward Five Aldermen D.W. Maxwell agreed that three minutes would be sufficient if many people come to the meeting prepared to speak. However, Maxwell suggested the time allotted be increased to five minutes in case of sparse attendance.

     The subject wasn’t definitively settled, but Bumgarner seemed in agreement with Maxwell’s proposal.

     Fernald presented aldermen with a draft of guidelines he’d drawn up dictating guidelines for the hearing.

     Further, the city attorney said he’ll instruct Police Chief Pap Henderson to immediately remove anyone who causes a disturbance during the hearing.

      “We have had public hearings in the past that turned into cursing and ranting,” said Fernald.