Redistricting plan still not in hands of feds

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 9, 2003

WOODVILLE &045; As of Monday, Wilkinson County’s redistricting plan &045; adopted by supervisors in August &045; still had not been received by the U.S. Justice Department for its mandatory review, leaving this fall’s county supervisor elections open to legal challenges if the new lines are used without federal approval.

Supervisors heard the news Monday from Chancery Clerk Thomas Tolliver, who said the Voting Rights Section of the U.S. Justice Department sent a letter of inquiry about the county’s plan to former board attorney Everett T. Sanders. Sanders’ office forwarded the letter to Wilkinson County officials.

&uot;I pass this on to the board because … if someone is adversely affected by this, then you could end up in a lawsuit,&uot; said Tolliver, who also spoke with an official at the Justice Department by telephone Monday morning.

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Following the 2000 Census, redistricting was necessary in Wilkinson County to balance districts where populations deviated by more than 5 percent from the county norm.

The board contracted Jackson consultant Derrick L. Johnson at a cost of $20,000 to redraw the district boundaries and submit the plan to the Justice Department.

An official in Tolliver’s office said as of Monday Johnson had been paid $15,890. Calls to Johnson this week were not returned.

With primary elections scheduled for Aug. 5 and the Justice Department reserving up to 60 days to review the plan and clear the elections, board members wondered where the plan is.

Fourth District Supervisor Robert Morgan said Johnson recently told him the plan had been mistakenly sent to the wrong agency. Morgan said Johnson also requested a copy of the board’s 2002 order to ignore the prisoner population at Wilkinson County Correctional Facility when drawing the new districts.

But Tolliver, who has observed the redistricting process twice before, did not accept those explanations. &uot;That order should have been a part of the original submission package,&uot; Tolliver said, adding that Johnson has done redistricting work for other counties and should know where to send the proposal.

&uot;I talked to Derrick (Johnson) on April 4 … and he said he had submitted everything … and I’ve heard that before,&uot; Tolliver said.

Board members attempted to contact Johnson for an explanation during the meeting but were unsuccessful. On Tuesday, a county official said the board had scheduled a Monday meeting with Johnson.