City hires firms for help with redistricting

Published 12:03 am Tuesday, June 16, 2015

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Board of Aldermen voted Monday to hire two firms to help facilitate the redistricting process.

The board voted to hire Slaughter and Associates of Oxford — an urban planning firm — and the law firm of Carroll Warren and Parker of Jackson to provide legal assistance at the recommendation of City Attorney Hyde Carby.

Carby said he had worked with the law firm — which specializes in representing municipal governments — before, and Carol Warren and Parker had recommended Slaughter and Associates.

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The vote follows a move by the board last week to start the redistricting process, three weeks after the filing of a federal lawsuit alleging the city’s current voting districts split geographically black areas of the city in a way that dilutes voting power and results in disproportionate representation.

Carby said the firms would start work as soon as possible. The city’s response to the federal lawsuit is due June 25.

“Redistricting will begin as soon as they are in place,” he said.

Carroll Warren and Parker will work at a blended rate of $200 an hour, while the Slaughter and Associates report will cost between $5,000 and $8,000, Carby said.

The current city districts are drawn based on the 2000 census, and though a redistricting effort began in 2011 following the 2010 census, the districts were left untouched after the U.S. Justice Department rejected the proposed plan because it did not reflect the population shifts in the census.

Holland & Rigby of Madison drafted the 2011 proposal.

The motion to engage the two firms was passed 3-0-1, with Aldermen Dan Dillard, Mark Fortenbery and Ricky Gray voting for it and Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis abstaining.

Alderman Tony Fields was not present at the meeting, and Alderwoman Sarah Smith — who had been in attendance — had to leave before the vote was taken.

Also during the meeting the board discussed a number of issues related to the city budget, including:

– Mayor Butch Brown’s contention the city should be receiving approximately $500,000 in road and bridge tax money from the Adams County government.

– The need to evaluate employee salaries and benefits and see if some costs can be addressed through attrition as employees leave and retire.

– Seeking greater reimbursement from the Natchez Senior Center, the Natchez Transit System and the Natchez Visitor’s Center for the cost of insurance for employees.

– Ways in which to keep the general fund balance positive, including a suggestion by Brown that money left over in other funds at the end of the fiscal year be directed to the general fund because the other funds will be replenished during each new budget cycle.