MC Council accepts new voting districts
By: JAMES A. ROBICHAUX
After more residents continued to voice their concerns and frustrations over city council redistricting and the racial elements of it, the Morgan City city council voted unanimously to approve revision Plan E.
Discussion, primarily in the form of complaints and concerns expressed by citizens in the public hearing followed by explanations and responses by consulting demographer Mike Hefner, dominated the meeting.
The first four speakers were black, and the first to speak was Woodrow Parker.
“My experience in public policy is about 30 years of experience,” Parker said. “I’m not here to attack, but I will say that your choice as you so carefully make those decisions is to do the right thing. Choose the highest population voters.”
“In a reflection of politicians in the past, things were not done the right way, but now, you have that choice,” he said.
Don Turner, who described himself as “just a concerned citizen, and a constituent of District 3,” spoke next.
“We have decided that Plan E is the best plan to achieve our goals, which is a minority voting district,” he said.
“In the past month, I’ve looked at about 10 different plans, and there are two plans that I like, Revision C and Revision E,” Cornel Keeler said.
“If you came up with 35 people to come up with a plan, you’d probably come up with 35 different plans. For everybody who wants to be out of District 3, there are about five people who want to be in District 3,” he said.
“I don’t care whether you’re talking about Third Street or Pine Street, if you’re in the district, that’s tough luck. If you don’t want to be, sell your house.”
Gerald McGuire, who is from Morgan City but now lives in Berwick, spoke next about the “hometown spirit,” and he and Mayor Tim Matte exchanged words, with McGuire being unsatisfied with Matte’s responses.
“The last time I spoke, it was concerning the hometown spirit, and I speak again concerning the same hometown spirit. I don’t know why we’re back here again doing the same thing,” McGuire said.
Matte responded, “We have to do it every 10 years.”
McGuire said, “Yeah, yeah, talk to me. We keep running into the same issues.”
Matte responded, “It’s the census.”
McGuire was still not satisfied.
“I’m getting ready to sit down,” McGuire said, “but we’re here again, and it’s the same struggle.”
Matte responded by reiterating.
“No, it’s just the process, Mr. McGuire,” Matte said.
“I’m going to go sit down,” McGuire said. “You’re saying the same thing, and I’m saying the same struggle 10 years later should be done away with.”
After the meeting, Hefner explained the process further, stating that redistricting would still need to take place due to population shifts even if racial elements were non-existent.
“Redistricting is a state and federal requirement,” he said.
“The racial component only comes into play where there is a minority district. Some of the entities that I do don't have enough minorities to have a minority district. Yet they still must redistrict and send the plan in for Section 5 review,” Hefner said, referring to the section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which covers such matters.
The fifth and last speaker was the only white speaker, former city councilman Greg Hamer who resides in the Pine Street area that was moved into District 3.
“I’ll be the first to admit that I did not attend the last public hearing concerning the reapportionment of our city. There were two reasons for that,” he said.
“One, none of the conversations concerning reapportionment ever got close to my neighborhood. Two, I did not feel that public meetings should be held in religious buildings when there are ample public buildings throughout the city. Let me be clear about that; I’d have been offended had you’d have tried to hold it at Sacred Heart, where I go.”
Hamer mentioned that recent reporting from The Daily Review on the issue stated that minority populations are underreported on the census.
“Therefore, the number of minorities in a given area is actually greater than the amount being used in the count for each district. So, again, why are we doing this?
“Doesn’t it all mean that our community is becoming more integrated? That ethnic and racial neighborhoods are shrinking and disappearing just as the Chinatowns and Little Italys have disappeared from many of our major cities?
“After all, is it not a plus for our society that we can live in peace and harmony in the same neighborhoods? America is a melting pot, and Morgan City is a melting pot,” Hamer said. “Isn’t it about time we celebrate that?”
“Morgan City elected a minority to a single member district on the police jury almost 30 years ago. We’re more diverse than we were back then,” he said.
“Single-member districts were intended to give greater attention by one councilman to a geographical area of the city, not to divide us along racial lines. I’d like to ask you to accept Plan F and leave my block connected to the rest of the neighborhood where it’s always been,” Hamer said.
Next, Hefner gave his presentation and he spoke to Hamer’s concerns, saying that he understood the desire to keep the Pine Street area in District 2 but that greater concerns existed, like the potential for delaying the election, and that Plan E gave District 3 the highest percentage of minority population out of all other plans.
“I hesitate to send the Department of Justice a plan that has 56 percent (black population in District 3, per Plan F) when we have one (Plan E) that meets the criteria with 57 percent. One thing that they have done this census is draw their own plan,” Hefner said
“My recommendation is that the council consider Plan E. It brings us the minority numbers that we need. We’re moving fewer people. There will be less confusion,” he said.
With Plan E, about 400 people would move into District 3, but with Plan F, about 600 people would move into District 3.
Plan E “represents as good of a balance as we can get,” Hefner said.
District 5 councilman Louis Tamporello asked Hefner for confirmation that he thought that Plan E had the best chance of acceptance from the Department of Justice, and Hefner quickly gave him a “yes” answer.
“One of the things they (Department of Justice) ask is that copies of the plans be submitted that have been considered. So, Plan E would have to be up there. First question I’m going to get is why did they go with F instead of E. So, if I tell them that there was a preference for a particular block being in one district versus another, they’re in Washington, they don’t care.”
Plan E, Hefner said, has the ability to match the numbers from 2000 Census in District 3. He also spoke of the consequences of having to reschedule the election.
“There’s a state law that says that if you miss your scheduled election date and you have to reschedule, you have to pay 100 percent of the cost, even if the state has something on the ballot. That’s to make sure people take this seriously.”
District 3 councilman Rev. Ron Bias asked Hefner for clarification.
“So, Mike,” Bias asked, “you’re saying that even if the council and the mayor sign off on Plan F it will probably have a problem being approved by the Justice Department because you also have to submit Plan E?”
After getting another “yes” answer from Hefner, Bias decided that no further discussion was needed.
“Mayor, I make a motion that we accept Plan E,” Bias said. The motion was seconded by District 4 councilman Luke Manfre, and the council voted unanimously to approve Plan E, after which most of the general public left as the council went on to other business.