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Aldermen OK ordinance on redistrict map

Brookhaven aldermen have cleared the way to ask for federal approval of the city’s redistricting map, been advised of needed repairs to the Waste Water Treatment Plant and hired a director of the city Cemetery Department.

     At their Tuesday night meeting, aldermen approved an ordinance describing the geography of new ward lines. With that in hand, along with maps of the new wards, City Attorney Joe Fernald may send the city’s redistricting information to the U.S. Justice Department for preclearance.

     Fernald hopes to send the packet in by Friday or early next week. Once the Justice Department has the plan, the department has 60 days to review the submission before preclearing the map, rejecting the map or requesting more information.

     Under the Voting Rights Act, any redistricting maps or other electoral changes in Mississippi must receive federal approval due to the state’s record of suppressing minority voters.

     A 60-day window means a decision likely won’t be issued until mid-December, weeks before qualifying begins in next spring’s municipal elections.

     “We’re cutting it close,” Fernald said after Tuesday’s meeting.

     Were the Justice Department to request more information in December, another 60 days would be allowed to review that information, casting candidate qualifying into confusion.

     Fernald said he believes candidates could qualify under old lines pending a final decision by the Justice Department, but he remains confident the new redistricting plan will be precleared.

     “I’m comfortable with what we’re sending,” Fernald said.

     Only Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates has objected to the final plan settled on by aldermen.

     The Lincoln County NAACP has also objected to the redistricting plan, accusing it of diluting minority voting power. However, two of the board’s three black aldermen have supported the map.

     Turning to city infrastructure, the board heard from Ralph Augimeri with Mitchell Technical Services, a company contracted to run the city’s Waste Water Treatment Plant.

     Augimeri has prepared a list of repairs needed at the plant.

     “It may seem extensive, but that plant is 22 years old,” Augimeri said. “It’s seen a lot of years.”

     The list identifies approximately 80 needed repairs, said Water Department Superintendent Keith Lewis. A total dollar value of these repairs was unavailable, but is said to be high.

     Augimeri assured aldermen, though, that the plant is functioning well right now.

     “It’s producing crystal clear water,” Augimeri said. “We need to keep it that way.”

     Mayor Les Bumgarner mentioned that the treatment plant’s license expires in 2015. At that time, city officials expect the Department of Environmental Quality to require significant upgrades at the plant.

     Bumgarner wanted assurances any repairs done now wouldn’t have to be scrapped later.

     “I wouldn’t recommend you spend money on anything you’re going to throw away,” Augimeri said.

     In other business, the city board also promoted a cemetery department employee. Wayne Williams was hired to fill the role of Cemetery Department supervisor. Bates also objected to this move.

     A committee of Bates, Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell and Ward Four Alderman Shirley Estes had interviewed prospective candidates and recommended Williams to the full board over Bates’ opposition.

     Bates preferred another employee of the department with more seniority.

     “I believe we’re going to run into problems,” Bates said, fearing the more senior employee may leave the department.

     Following an executive session, board members voted to hire Williams with only Bates voting against.