E-mail leaks redistricting plan

Published 12:06 am Saturday, October 22, 2011

NATCHEZ — Natchez Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis is apparently working on an alternate redistricting plan for the city apart from the Natchez Board of Aldermen.

An e-mail apparently from Mathis that was forwarded to The Natchez Democrat Tuesday indicates the plan would include four majority black wards. The city currently has three.

The e-mail, sent to an attorney in Cleveland and copied to Alderman James “Rickey” Gray and, presumably accidentally, to a private citizen who formerly lived in Natchez, outlines information Mathis had previously provided to the attorney for work on the plan.

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The body of the e-mail indicates that it is from Mathis, Gray and Alderman Ernest “Tony” Fields, though Fields was not copied on the message.

The e-mail, sent at 4:09 p.m. Tuesday, references a meeting that night and the fact that no alternative plan is ready to present.

The city had a public hearing on redistricting at 6 p.m. Tuesday night, at which time Mathis asked City Attorney Everett Sanders and William Rigby of the city’s hired redistricting firm about deadlines for alternate plans.

“If there are any other plans that are in the process of being drawn and will possibly be here at the next hearing (what is the deadline,)” Mathis said Tuesday.

“It’s my understanding from the NAACP that there is a plan in the process,” she said at the meeting.

The Rev. Clifton Marvel, vice president of the Natchez branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Thursday the NAACP is funding efforts for a redistricting plan.

However, Marvel said he is not working with Mathis, Fields or Gray on the NAACP plan.

Mathis declined to answer questions about the e-mail Wednesday and Thursday, saying she had been advised by her attorney that the e-mail falls under attorney-client privilege and she was not at liberty to discuss the contents of the e-mail.

Mathis also threatened legal action if the contents of the e-mail were shared.

Mathis did say she is a member of the NAACP.

“I’ve went to the meetings,” she said. “If they ask me for information, I’m giving it to them.”

The e-mail makes no reference to the NAACP but does say that Mathis has communicated with the attorney several times and was prepared to travel to Cleveland to finalize the plan Friday.

The e-mail outlines information Mathis had provided to the attorney for redistricting efforts, including the addresses of the current aldermen.

Mathis said, when asked Wednesday, that addresses of the aldermen are public record and have to be included in a redistricting plan.

She said none of the aldermen could be drawn out of his or her ward.

Rigby said drawing the incumbents in their current wards is a standard redistricting principle.

He said it is not a legal requirement to draw the wards to include the incumbents, but doing so avoids creating a “dirty pool” that would allow a governing body to force an incumbent out by pitting them against another incumbent.

Rigby said that sometimes happens during legislative redistricting.

Natchez Mayor Jake Middleton said Thursday he was not aware Mathis — or any other alderman — was working on an alternative plan.

The aldermen voted last month to hire Holland & Rigby Political Redistricting Consulting to handle the city’s redistricting needs. Mathis was the only alderman to vote against the hire.

Middleton said Thursday he did not understand why, if Mathis had concerns, they weren’t given at the public hearings for the plan.

“Why wasn’t this brought up at the meeting,” he said. “Why do we play secrets? Why do we have to keep secrets from one another?”

“If you have an issue about something, why don’t you bring it up at the hearing?”

Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery, who said he was also unaware of another plan, said he did not think it was right that board members would go behind the board’s back to create an alternate plan.

“I thought that’s what we had those public hearings for,” he said. “I thought that we were putting everything out on the table, and I thought it was for the public not for our board to have their own agenda.”

Fields said he was not directly working on an alternate plan, but he is aware that there is a push for another plan.

Fields said he is not aware of anyone that has been hired to create a plan other than the company hired by the city.

Gray said he has not hired anyone to draw up an alternate plan, but he is trying to find someone to submit an alternate plan.

“When you don’t trust the person that’s doing the redistricting, what are you supposed to do, let them continue drawing the plans?” Gray said Wednesday.

Gray and Mathis raised concerns about the hiring of Holland & Rigby for the current redistricting process at the board’s Sept. 13 meeting.

The following is a copy of the e-mail sent by Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis to her attorney concerning redistricting in the City of Natchez:

DATE    10/18/2011

To date I have sent you the following information concerning a proposed redistricting plan for the City of Natchez which would reflect four (4) minority wards:
1.    Information from Southwest Planning and Development District (June/MBC-LEO presentation)
2.    Emailed:  all addresses of current elected aldermen for Natchez
3.    Sent information overnight including:  addresses for incumbents; 2010 Natchez census information; maps from 2003 redistricting and a letter outlining what the three minority incumbents were requesting.
4.    A tube of maps which included:  1999 original map from which 2003 redistricting was drawn; Rigby map 5 drawn 10/5 and Rigby map drawn 10/8 along with other mapping information from 2003 and the date for submission of alternative redistricting information.
5.    I also spoke with you on the phone on several occasions.

Today is October 18th and we have no alternative plan to present tonight.  Please call me immediately and tell me what to do or how to handle this problem (phone number removed).  I am prepared to travel to Cleveland on Friday to complete this process if you will call with what information you need and when you can be finished along with whether you can meet with me on Friday, 10/21/2011 and the time.

Joyce Arceneaux Mathis