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City Council, May 10

Heat flies over redistricting plans
Stubbornness of come Council members makes us wonder

Marc Knapp

Some weeks ago, we praised Council for its responsiveness and responsibility. After last nightís meeting, we think our praise may have been mistaken. Council last night was deadlocked for some time on proceeding with redistricting plans. And if the deadlock were not broken, it would have been impossible to delineate the boundaries of voting districts before the election in November. Boundaries needed to be redrawn in the light of the 2010 census.

What stunned us was the reluctance of many Council members to attempt to craft a compromise. It seemed that some Council members wanted the City to fail in finding a compromise. What ever the injustice, what ever the legal risks, whatever the opprobrium, they were prepared to live with it. We can only speculate on their motives.

Council member Wilson was absent for the early part of the Council meeting and did not participate in the first part of the discussion and subsequent vote. The vote was over the motion to accept Redistricting Plan C2 defined by city staff but to work on issues relating to the plan before the second reading of the ordinance. Six Council members opposed the plan and although the Mayor and five Council members supported the motion, it failed because there was not a majority. Press Download file to see all of the redistricting plans considered by Council.

Council member White, obviously conscious of the seriousness of the deadlock, challenged those who opposed the motion to make one of their own. The silence was deafening. There was no effort on the part of the dissident Council members to overcome the deadlock.

The Mayor moved on with the agenda but brought the redistricting issue back up when Council member Wilson arrived in the Chamber. There was chaos and mayhem thereafter with the Mayor barely in control. Dissident Council members Gallant, Mallard and Gregorie were loudly vocal opposing the Mayorís efforts to resuscitate the issue. It was against Roberts Rules of Order they said. No so, said the Mayor, if one of the members of the prevailing side wanted to reopen the issue because of a change in mind, then it was allowed. Council member Riegel volunteered to change his vote with a modest proviso that staff look at including all of Shadow Moss subdivision in his electorate.

We wonít attempt to capture the arguments that ensued, let alone their heat. But Council member Alexander had a copy of Robertís Rules on hand and he found the appropriate paragraphs, and Council member Seekings read them to Council. To our mind and to those of most Council members it seems, the action of the Mayor was justified.

A vote was again taken and with that of Council members Wilson and Riegel, life was restored to City redistricting. The City was again to look at redistricting and consider the requests of Council members Gregorie and Riegel in defining boundaries in the C2 plan. The Council members that remained opposed to the motion were Gregorie, Mallard, Gallant, Hallman and Lewis.

The core of the issue, at least for some of the dissident Council members was the possible loss of African American representation on Council. There had been a significant decline in the ratio of African Americans to the total population in the 10 years before the 2010 census. At the same time, the population of the City had grown 20%. It follows from this that without significant gerrymandering, and not allowed by the Department of Justice, it would not be possible to preserve the same number of majority/minority districts that existed over the last 10 years. African Americans now comprise only 25% of the voting population and therefore making it near impossible to produce more than three majority/minority districts.

In our opinion, the City tried hard in crafting plans that would maximize the majority/minority districts but it was not possible to preserve those that existed before. In all of the City plans, much of the districts of Council member Gallant and Lewis were to be combined. Also, the ratio of minorities in Council member Gregorieís district would decline. And indeed, we think that with the decline in minority representation, his hold on the seat would be weakened.

Council member Gregorie accused the Staff of ignoring his requests for changing boundaries and he noted, as did some citizens, that the Westside would now be split among three districts. Council member Riedel also protested at the split of some subdivisions into different districts.

Mr. Tim Keane defended the efforts of staff, as did many Council members. There had been a number of workshops and the City had listened and gone back and refined plans in the light of such discussion. Plan C and C2, the latter being only modestly different from C, had the smallest deviation of any of the plans, the major objective in defining district boundaries (deviation is the measure of variance from the average population of each voting. If there were a variance of 0, it would mean that every district had exactly the same population). Because of other limitations it is virtually impossible to eliminate all deviation. Areas in districts have to be contiguous, and boundaries must run around and not through census blocs.

Some Council members and citizens said that race should not matter in defining districts. Council members should serve all of their electorate regardless of its composition. Indeed one Council member said that the broad community over the last 40 years or so had become totally desegregated and we should not be influenced by race.

But we continue to ask why there was no effort to break the deadlock on Council before Council member Wilson arrived? And worse, why was there such hostility to breaking the deadlock? Could it be tied to Council members trying to embarrass the Mayor? Would it seem to weaken his position going into the November elections and in some way favor Council member Gregorie who is running for the office, or Council member Mallard who is rumored to planning to run? Of course, using the old electoral boundaries would not force Council members Lewis and Gallant to compete for the new district created by the merger of their original districts. And why did Council member Hallman oppose the redistricting? What does he fear? The overlying dissent seemed to be more about protecting individual council members rather than representing citizens.

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