MC Council redistricting plan settled

By: JAMES A. ROBICHAUX

MORGAN CITY — At a redistricting meeting two weeks ago, several residents expressed concern and dissatisfaction about both the process and the results of the city’s redistricting plan for city council districts.

After that meeting, city leaders decided to hold another meeting for residents to not only voice their concerns but see the process of moving census blocks around, as performed by consulting demographer Mike Hefner. That meeting Tuesday night was held at Walmsley United Methodist Church on Freret Street, and two of the concerned citizens who spoke at the recent city council meeting — Herman Hartman and Jean Paul Bourg — were also in attendance.

As at the previous redistricting meeting, members of the general public in attendance could suggest moving blocks of their choice in and out of districts to see how the move affected numbers and percentages both of black and white and of voting age people.

At issue during the most recent city council meeting were discrepancies between data from the 2010 census and racial demographic data the citizens claim that they see with their own eyes. Hefner explained some of the reasons for the possible discrepancies.

“Not everybody gets counted, not everybody fills out those forms, not everybody answers the door when the census taker comes,” he said.

“That’s why it’s so important for people to answer that census. Unfortunately, a lot of times, it’s the minority populations, the Hispanics, the American Indians, the blacks, who don’t answer those forms, and it ends up hurting them.”

Hefner said that there is no choice but to use 2010 census data.

“We’ve got to go with what we’ve got to go with,” he said.

He also then urged city leaders who had problems with the discrepancies to do what they could to make the 2020 census more accurate.

“Those of you who are leaders in the community — black, white, or otherwise — you need to let your neighbors and others know when that 2020 census form comes out, fill it out and send it in so you can get counted, because a lot of your federal programs and even state programs use these census numbers for their money allocations,” Hefner said.

Several changes were made and suggested, but one was made that resulted in no objections and therefore ended the meeting.

In a move that Hefner called a “significant change,” the area bound by Everett Street, Duke Street, La. 182, and 7th Street was moved into District 2 in exchange for a more protruding area between Bowman Street and Terrebonne Street to Federal Avenue except for the part between Terrebonne and Egle streets east of Shannon Street to District 3.

“The Duke Street area was a good move,” Hefner said of the move suggested by others at the meeting.

“It brought the minority percentage up 2 points. The Terrebonne block gave District 3 enough population to lose the Duke Street blocks and get much closer to the 5 percent deviation target.”

There can be no more than a 5 percent deviation in population from one district to another.

After this, Hefner and Mayor Tim Matte began to try to move smaller, less-populated blocks into a more normal and straight geographical alignment to “straighten up” the districts, but at least two black attendees at the meeting said, “We’re not trying to clean it up; we’re trying to get the numbers up.”

Final adoption of the plan is expected at the May 22 city council meeting.

Bourg was happy that his area was moved back into District 2 with the new plan.

“I was told that they had a new plan and that it had me back in District 2, and sure enough, with this new provision, it puts me back in 2, and in the process, brought up the minority percentage (in District 3). So, it’s a win-win,” he said.

Bourg said that he now has a better appreciation for the process that went into moving the districts in the first place.

“I see what they’re trying to get to; they’re trying to get the minority percentage for District 3 as high as possible,” he said.

“They need to also keep in mind that that area that I’m in is unique with the park and the shrimp festival, and they need to keep that area intact and not carve into that district just to get a few minority votes.

“I’m very satisfied. That’s why I sat there and didn’t say anything.”

At the April 24 meeting, Bourg said that one of his main concerns was issues with the annual Shrimp & Petroleum Festival; and that regardless of what district the Lawrence Park area was in, he wanted it all in one district.

“It’s the same reason behind why I wanted to be in District 2. Nothing has changed,” he said.

“Like I said, if Rev. Bias was over that area, I’d have no problem being in his district, but it’s just that he was going to be moving me from everybody in that area that has the same concerns as me,” Bourg said.

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