New redistricting plan adopted

Published 12:05 am Friday, October 28, 2011

Natchez — Mayor Jake Middleton broke a 3-3 tie Thursday night, casting his vote in favor of a redistricting plan that maintains three majority black wards and three majority white wards.

Aldermen Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, James “Rickey” Gray and Ernest “Tony” Fields voted against the plan submitted by the city’s hired consultant. Aldermen Bob Pollard, Mark Fortenbery and Dan Dillard voted for it.

The mayor only casts a vote in the case of a tie.

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The approved plan — which will now be sent to the U.S. Department of Justices for approval — was prepared by the political redistricting consultant firm Holland and Rigby.

An alternate plan on display at the meeting showed a fourth majority black ward. Bill Rigby, a consultant from Holland and Rigby, said he received the alternate plan Monday. He said there was no author listed on the plan.

The Rev. Clifton Marvel, vice president of the Natchez chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, read a statement at the meeting declaring the NAACP was “adamantly” opposed to all three working redistricting plans that Rigby has prepared throughout the course of the redistricting process.

Marvel said the NAACP will not support any plan that does not reflect the total racial composition of the city or the black voting age population and does not reflect the spirit of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Marvel said the NAACP would submit an alternate plan that makes Ward 5 majority black to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard asked Marvel if he participated in the alternate plan that was on display at the meeting.

Marvel said he did not participate in the creation of plan, but he had seen the plan multiple times before.

“If that’s what you call participating, then I participated,” he said.

Dillard questioned Gray, Fields and Mathis about an e-mail Mathis reportedly sent to an attorney in Cleveland regarding an alternate plan.

Mathis sent the e-mail last week, but had not shared with the board that she was participating in efforts to create an alternate redistricting plan.

Gray said Tuesday he did not participate in the formation of the e-mail.

“But I’m part of it,” he said.

Fields said to Dillard anything that he has done is no different than anything Dillard has done.

“You don’t take anyone’s word that comes in here at face value … you go in there and do your research and get your data.”

Mathis said she has been working with the NAACP on redistricting for a year. She said after the last redistricting process when she was called by the DOJ about why she was “dumb enough” to vote for the plan, she decided to educate herself more on the redistricting process.

Mathis said in 2010 when she was informed Natchez would be receiving census data early because of impending elections, she immediately went to the NAACP.

“I said, ‘We’re not going to wait until the last minute and not have a plan,’” she said.

Mathis said she and the NAACP sought redistricting help from the Mississippi Municipal League.

Fields said working on the alternate plan was not a secret deal.

Gray said he didn’t know what the big deal was, because no one had done anything wrong or broken any laws.

Rigby said one of the alternate plan’s main problems was that it had reduced the overall population of black voters in Wards 1, 2 and 4 — wards that are designated as majority black wards in the current redistricting plan.

Rigby said the alternate plan also relocates 25 percent of Natchez’s population to a ward different from those in which they currently live. He said that is most heavily concentrated in Ward 4, where only 15 percent of the original population remained.

Mathis, Gray and Fields all said their main concern was having a plan that reflected the current census data.

Middleton said before he voted that Ward 5 was, in his opinion, a swing ward.

He said the difference in Ward 5’s black and white voting age population was not enough to create four majority black wards. The city will have to receive DOJ approval of the plan before the qualification period for this spring’s elections can begin.