Members of the Jackson City Council Rules Committee are rethinking hiring D.L. Johnson Consultants LLC for the city's redistricting and asking the city attorney's office to look into the company.
Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson heads the company, which the city selected in December to lead the city's ward redistricting efforts for a fee of $20,000. The city did not receive a signed contract from Johnson until April 23.
Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. has to sign the contract before it is official. He said he is waiting on a legal review of the contract by his office and the city attorney's office before he will sign it.
"Some other things that may or may not be occurring are beyond the administrative reach," Johnson said. "It has to be considered by the council."
Federal law requires all local, state and federal governments to remap their election districts every 10 years, after each census, to account for changes in population. Under the Voting Rights Act, all redistricting in "covered jurisdictions," including all of Mississippi and most of the southeastern United States, has to be approved by either the federal Department of Justice or the District Court in Washington, D.C. Governments most commonly submit redistricting changes to the DOJ.
Ward 1 Councilman and Rules Committee Chairman Quentin Whitwell and Ward 6 Councilman Tony Yarber both said they were concerned about Johnson's delay in signing the contract and his lack of communication with the council since December.
Multiple attempts by the Jackson Free Press to reach Johnson for comment were unsuccessful.
With citywide elections scheduled for next year, time is running short to approve the new ward parameters before voters go to the polls. And if Johnson's timetable on Hinds County's redistricting is any sign, the council may need to worry about getting it done in time.
The Hinds County Board of Supervisors approved one of Johnson's proposed maps Feb. 28, 2011. After Johnson turned the proposal over to the Department of Justice, the Board of Supervisors received a letter from the DOJ requesting a long list of data it needed to approve the proposal.
By the June 6, 2011, board meeting, Johnson had not sent all the requested data to the DOJ. Election commissioners Connie Cochran and Lelia Rhodes told the board of supervisors that redistricting approved within 60 days of an election cannot be used for that election, so they used the districts drawn from the 2000 census for the county primaries last August.
At this Monday's Board of Supervisors meeting, Martin told the board that the county sent the final information requested to the DOJ last Friday, more than a year and two months after the board approved the proposed redistricting.
After reviewing Johnson's work with Hinds County, Whitwell tried to hold a discussion about the city's contract with Johnson in executive session at Monday's special council meeting. He was unable to get the unanimous vote needed to add the discussion to the agenda from the four councilmen present at the meeting, though.
Ward 5 Councilman Charles Tillman voted against adding the resolution because he didn't want to add something to the agenda at the meeting with three council members—Chokwe Lumumba (Ward 2), LaRita Cooper-Stokes (Ward 3) and Margaret Barrett-Simon (Ward 7)—absent.
"The Rules Committee deals with it," Whitwell said. "I'm actually trying to bring it up in front of the full council. I can't, of course, bring anybody to the meetings. I guess I could start a carpool.
"They're not here, and we need to talk about it. It's going to affect what we've got going on. I can certainly, as rules chair, just start making some decisions, but I think that we need some help."
Whitwell called a Rules Committee meeting for 10 a.m. this Thursday, May 8, to have the discussion he'd hoped to have in executive session Monday.
The Ward 1 councilman opposed hiring only D.L. Johnson Consultants for the city contract during the bidding process in December. He said he thought the city should have hired Johnson to work with Central Mississippi Planning and Development District, as they did after the 2000 census.
Former Ward 3 City Councilman and current District 5 Supervisor Kenneth Stokes was the chairman of the Rules Committee when it awarded the contract to Johnson in December 2011.
"This process occurred under Stokes' quote-unquote ‘leadership,'" Whitwell said. "He ramrodded Johnson through the council. I was for doing what was done 10 years ago."