Redistricting Raises Eyebrows | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Redistricting Raises Eyebrows

Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon is concerned about one redistricting option that would take half of the Midtown Neighborhood out of her ward.

Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon is concerned about one redistricting option that would take half of the Midtown Neighborhood out of her ward. Photo by Trip Burns.

The Jackson City Council finally has its redistricting options in hand. However, a few of the plans have citizens and council members on the offensive.

It is clear that none of the four plans will please everyone on the council or in the city. One of the four plans, Option 2, shows only small changes in the current ward boundaries, just enough to equalize the ward populations, as required by law. The other three have major changes that some believe are excessive if not altogether foul play.

Several midtown residents are worried after seeing Option 3 that D.L. Johnson Consultants proposed for the city. The map involves almost completely redrawing wards 3 and 7. Under the plan, Councilwoman LaRita Cooper-Stokes' Ward 3 would lose most of its heavily-populated northern half along Northside Drive. In place of that loss, Ward 3 would take on the less-densely populated southern two-thirds of Ward 7. Ward 3 would also shift to the west along Fortification and Capitol streets, taking on a portion of what is now Ward 4.

The plan would split the Midtown Neighborhood in two. At the moment, the entire neighborhood is in Ward 7. Woodrow Wilson Avenue borders the neighborhood to the north, Fortification Street to the south, West Street to the east and Mill Street to the west. Redistricting Plan 3, if approved, would split the neighborhood, with part of it in Ward 3 and the other portion in Ward 7.

Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon said Cooper-Stokes brought the design for Option 3 to D.L. Johnson Consultants. Cooper-Stokes was the only councilmember who submitted her own map, Barrett-Simon said. Cooper-Stokes confirmed Aug. 20 at City Hall that Option 3 is "the Ward 3 option."

Derrick Johnson, state NAACP president and head of D.L. Johnson Consultants, said that his company drew all four of the maps under consideration of the council members' suggestions and requests, but he refused to say which options were most strongly influenced by which council members.

"I don't know whether (the councilmembers) want us to tell (who influenced which option)," D.L. Johnson Consultants partner Hollis Watkins said at the meeting.

Midtown residents spoke out against splitting the neighborhood at an Aug. 16 meeting at the Jackson Medical Mall. Jennifer West, president of the Midtown Neighborhood Association, said she understands that because of regulations, the city has to redistrict, but she wants the city to consider what the people of midtown want.

"In the midtown area, we're doing a lot of great things," West said at the meeting. "We have strong relationships with organizations (in) Fondren (and in) Belhaven. We'd like to keep those relationships going with the way that we're shaped now."

The U.S. Department of Justice will have to approve whatever plan the City Council chooses before it takes effect. Cooper-Stokes' husband and Hinds County Supervisor Kenneth Stokes said at the meeting that the DOJ will pay close attention to the fact that Jackson lost white population over the past decade.

Stokes said only Plan 3 would allow for a black councilperson to represent Ward 7.

The other plans set the Ward 7 voting population between 51 percent and 54 percent African American. Plan 3 would make the ward's voting population 69.57 percent black.

"You cannot gain black population and don't create black leadership," Stokes said.

Barrett-Simon said Ward 7, which she has represented since 1985, has been majority black for a long time.

"I just think (Stokes) is misguided. I have represented a majority-black ward for some years now," Barrett-Simon said.

Option 3 also creates the highest white population in Ward 1 of any proposal. Under that plan, 68.89 percent of Ward 1 voters would be white. The next-highest percentage would come from Option 2, at 62.36 percent.

Another major change was in Options 1, 3 and 4. Those options included Ward 7 taking over the area between Lakeland Drive and Meadowbrook Road, from Interstate 55 on the west to Ridgewood Road on the east, known as the LOHO neighborhood.

Whitwell said he prefers Option 2, which keeps the LOHO neighborhood in Ward 1.

"If Belhaven, midtown and Fondren can remain a cohesive neighborhood, LeFleur East deserves to remain a cohesive neighborhood," Whitwell said at City Hall Aug. 20.

As part of the exchange in Option 4, Ward 1 would include the Jackson-Evers International Airport, which is currently part of Ward 7.

Ward 1 would not gain many residents, but Barrett-Simon, Whitwell and Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. Confirmed Aug. 20 that at there are least two to four votes from the region in most elections. All three said they did not know who the voters were, but that the city owns all of the land in the airport district.

Whitwell and Barrett-Simon said they have made unsuccessful attempts to find out who the voters are.

D. L. Johnson Consultants presented the four versions of the redistricting maps to the City Council and citizens for the first time Aug. 16 at the Jackson Medical Mall.

The main goal of redistricting is to adjust the wards' boundaries to set the populations as close to an average as possible. The average population of the seven wards in the city is 24,788. All four plans have Ward 4 as the largest ward with 25,691 citizens, 3.64 percent over the average. All of the plans, except Plan 3, have Ward 3 as the least populated ward with 24,065 residents, 2.92 percent under the average.

The City Council has put the redistricting vote on the agenda for its Aug. 21 meeting. Under city rules, any ordinance must be on the agenda for at least two weeks before going to a vote.

Unless the Council votes to suspend the rules, the earliest they can vote for a ward-redistricting plan is Sept. 4.

Comment and email Jacob D. Fuller at [email protected]

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