MC Council continues redistricting talks
By JAMES A. ROBICHAUX
MORGAN CITY — Expressions of concern about imminent city council redistricting, and the racial elements tied to the process, dominated the meeting of the Morgan City city council on Tuesday night.
Some residents disputed U.S. Census data on the racial composition of various city blocks, and council members and mayor Tim Matte responded to many of the concerns by describing what was discussed and learned at the April 10 public redistricting meeting with the consulting demographer.
Herman Hartman, a black citizen of District 3, spoke about his various concerns
“I have some concerns about redistricting, simply because, looking at the map, I notice there are some areas that are quoted as having the 51 percent that we have right now, and it doesn’t represent it from the standpoint that it would increase,” he said.
The 51 percent to which Hartman was referring was the voting-age black population of the district.
“If we are going to be represented as a group and given an opportunity to be successful, it seems as though we should be given more than 51 percent,” he said.
Mayor Tim Matte responded to Hartman with other information.
“If I understand your point, though, District 3 which is now the majority-minority district, the proposal that’s on the table right now has a percentage of black population of 55.7.”
Hartman and the Rev. Ron Bias, councilman for District 3, responded to Matte.
“What he’s talking about is the voting age population, which is roughly 52 percent,” Bias said.
Matte asked Hartman if he had looked at any alternatives.
“I have some ideas, but before I even talk about my ideas, I was wondering if there was any copies of all plans that were used to redistrict this area,” Hartman said.
Matte described the process, particularly the happenings of the April 10 meeting, at which Hartman was not in attendance.
“Well, this was the process that was followed. We had an existing map, from the 2000 census. Then, at the workshop, councilmembers and citizens said, ‘what if you did this?’ and ‘what if you did that?’ moving individual blocks,” Matte said.
“Specifically, what the demographer did is he took census blocks that had a majority black population that were within the reach of district 3, added blocks and subtracted blocks that were a white majority, sort of a back-and-forth process. So, there wasn’t an alternative A, alternative B, alternative C. It was individual blocks going in and out based on the suggestions of all citizens that were there,” Matte said.
The demographer that Matte referenced is consultant Mike Hefner of Geographic Planning & Demographic Services LLC.
“At the end of that time, this was the map that brought the highest number on that line of percentage that he refers to,” Matte said, referring to the Section 5 rule of the U.S. Department of Justice, “and, at the same time, left the individual council districts at less than 5 percent of the deviation.”
Hartman still was not satisfied with the responses he received.
“I look at some of the demographic areas that you included, let’s take, for instance, the area of the Young Memorial Campus, back on, I guess that would be, 4th Street,” Hartman said. “I don’t know any blacks who live there; so, why would that be included?”
Bias responded to Hartman, explaining that each block had to be in a district, and that putting one block in District 3 would necessitate removing another block elsewhere.
“Let me say this too, Mr. Hartman,” Bias said. “I did talk to Mike Hefner, the demographer, yesterday, and my suggestion was to have a meeting in District 3 itself at one of the churches, where the citizens can come out and voice their opinions and actually see what happens themselves with the model that he uses when he switches the streets and lines, how it decreases or increases white or black population.
“He emailed me back today, he did say to set up a time and place, and he’d be glad to come, and anybody who wants to come can come,” Bias said.
“But my thought was if the people who live in District 3, District 2, 4, 5, 1, whatever, can see this physically, it would ease a lot of phobias and let a lot of people see actually what’s going on.”
Hartman still was not satisfied, questioning the date used to compile the demographic information used for the redistricting.
“How current is the eligible voting list?” Hartman asked.
Matte quickly responded to Hartman’s question.
“This isn’t based on voting lists, now. This is based on the 2010 Census, and voter age population,” Matte said.
Hartman pressed further.
“I looked up some voters that we have in District 3, and they’re no longer here,” Hartman said.
“Exactly,” Bias responded.
“But they’re included in that voting,” Hartman said.
“Well, maybe not,” Matte said.
“They’re on the list; they have to be, man,” Hartman said.
Matte again reiterated that it was U.S. Census data and only U.S. Census data — and, therefore, not voting lists — that could be used to make the determination.
“The population percentages are derived from the census. So, if they were in District 3, whether they’re registered to vote or not, if they were in District 3 on April 2010, then they’re supposed to be in that number. You can’t make everybody register, and you certainly can’t make everybody vote, but they get counted as being there, and they affect the numbers,” Matte said.
“I had an opinion that the census could be off because it said our population went down. I thought our population actually went up, but it came down 238 as far as our numbers were concerned. Is that what you see on the voter registration list, or is it people that have moved in and out? I don’t know,” Matte said.
Bias again tried to ease Hartman’s concerns.
“Mr. Hartman, when we can solidify a date, I’ll personally send letters to all of the churches in District 3, and that way it can be announced on the pulpit, and hopefully, people will know what date and what time that meeting is,” Bias said.
Hartman asked why the recent April 10 meeting, as described on the front page of The Daily Review on April 11, was not advertised or described in the newspapers or radio.
“It was in the newspaper and on the radio,” Matte said.
“It was?” Hartman asked.
Matte spoke of the relative urgency of agreeing on a redistricting plan.
“One point I want to make on this, we are anxious and excited to have another meeting, but this is going to happen fairly rapidly. We want to have the elections on time, and in order to have the elections on time, this has to be done for the August ballot when people qualify for office.
“What we’re hoping to do is to take this issue up at the May council meeting and approve it. So, we’re going to push Mike Hefner to have a meeting soon,” Matte said.
“I understand that, but we want to make sure that people are satisfied with the map,” he aid.
Bias reminded Hartman that “the final say-so will come from the Department of Justice.”
Hartman was not the only citizen who expressed several questions and concerns.
Jean Paul Bourg, who is white and lives in District 2 but who would live in District 3 if the most recently proposed changes are implemented, spoke of his concerns, and told the council that he was presenting a petition from residents of his block near Lawrence Park who are opposed to being moved to District 3.
“We like to be able to go to our councilman with our concerns. Now, we would be in District 3, which is mostly away from that area,” Bourg said. “We feel like we may just be a few of us with those concerns, whereas if we are in District 2, there will be more of us with those concerns. Our voices would be heard more in District 2.”
Bourg said that his main concerns were blocking of roads, driveways and houses for the annual Shrimp & Petroleum Festival.
“We really don’t understand why we were moved. We feel like there are only two or three black voters on that block,” Bourg said.
Like Hartman before him, Bourg took issue with the stated racial demographic composition of his neighborhood as described by the 2010 U.S. Census.
Bias, however, took issue with something that Bourg said.
“I have a question for you, Mr. Bourg,” Bias said. “I heard you say that you would prefer to stay in District 2 because you feel like you would be heard better. What makes you feel like you wouldn’t be heard?”
Bourg was quick to respond that he did not have a problem with Bias himself as a coincilman.
“No, I believe I’d be heard with you, Rev. Bias,” Bourg said.
Bias responded, stating that it wasn’t about him.
“It doesn’t have to be me. It would be anybody” who is a councilman, Bias said.
Bourg further explained his concerns.
“If I had a concern about something going on around the park, if I was in District 2, everybody in District 2 lives around the park, and I could get signatures and do what I did today relatively easily, whereas if I’m in District 3, I might have a problem, because nobody except us lives by the park,” Bourg said.
Bias told Bourg that he wouldn’t get any less treatment if his council member was someone other than Larry Bergeron.
“I sympathize with you Mr. Bourg, but I believe that everybody up here wearing the title of city councilman of the City of Morgan City, and I believe that if you got a call from a person that lives in any district, it doesn’t matter, they live in the City of Morgan City, and I believe that every councilman up here would work just as hard for anybody,” Bias said. “At the end of the day, we all represent the city.”
Bourg explained his skepticism with Bias’ response.
“If you had one person from your district calling you or if you had 20 people from your district calling you, which would you be quicker to fix? I know that’s how it goes. Y’all get people calling you about concerns with things. I don’t know,” Bourg said.
“If I’m in an area where everybody has the same situation, you may address it quicker than if one person calls you because you might say, ‘oh, that’s just one person in my district,’” he said.
Bias responded to Bourg’s repeated concerns.
“It doesn’t matter if one person calls me or if 100 people call me, I’ll work just the same,” Bias said.
Matthew Glover, who is black and is a next-door-neighbor and friend of Bourg, took the podium next.
“When you say that area is majority black, I’ve been there 25 years, and that’s not the case,” Glover said. “It’s a nice area. It’s not about the percentage of blacks and whites.”
Bias responded that whether or not the census data are accurate for the current time is largely irrelevant for the approval from the Department of Justice, and he added that the neighborhood in question should not get special treatment.
“It’s not like that area is an island by itself. It’s still the City of Morgan City. I can understand their concerns, and I concur with Mr. Glover and Mr. Bourg, but, again, if this must be done by the law, it’s out of everybody’s hands,” Bias said.
“When the final lines are drawn, I’m going to be the scapegoat,” Bias said.
As the discussion ended, the mayor reminded those listening of the relative urgency of completing the redistricting.
“I will encourage you to watch the media because we will have to call this meeting pretty rapidly. We’re not rushing it for the sake of rushing it,” Matte said.
After the meeting, Bourg was asked if he would have a problem if the entire Lawrence Park neighborhood was in District 3, and he said that he would not have a problem with that. He said that he wanted to maintain the area all in one district.
“If I have concerns with the park, I may be the only one complaining,” Bourg said, explaining his fears.