Redistricting hearing set for Monday

Published 2:51 am Sunday, November 15, 2015

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez will host a public hearing Monday to allow residents an opportunity to see the city’s proposed redistricting plan.

The hearing will be at 5 p.m. in the Natchez City Council Chambers.

Since May, the city has faced a federal lawsuit that alleges unequal racial distribution in the drawing of Natchez’s six aldermen ward district lines.

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The lawsuit alleges that the current ward lines — based on the 2000 census — are drawn in a way that “fractures geographically concentrated African-American populations and dilutes African-American voting strength.”

Former Natchez Mayor Phillip West, former Adams County Justice Court Judge Mary Lee Toles, the Rev. Clifton Marvel and Jacqueline Marsaw, both with the local chapter of the NAACP, filed the lawsuit.

The City of Natchez provided a proposed redistricting plan to the plaintiffs last month.

Mayor Butch Brown said he believes the board of aldermen will take a vote on the plan after the public hearing concludes Monday.

“I would hope that they would, we have discussed it on several occasions,” Brown said. “I think the plan is pretty much something … the board can and will adopt.”

The board of aldermen discussed the plan on multiple occasions behind closed doors in executive session, citing the litigation exception of the open meetings law.

In the proposed plan, the black voting population increases the most in Ward 5, currently represented by white alderman Mark Fortenbery.

Under the current ward lines, blacks represent 57.5 percent of the total population in Ward 5. Under the new plan, blacks would have a 65-percent representation.

Voting age population in Ward 5, under the new plan, would increase from 52.5 percent to 60 percent.

While the black vote strengthened under the proposed plan in Ward 5, it decreased in others.

Total black population in Ward 2 went from 97.6 percent to 89.8 percent. Voting age population shifted from 97.6 percent to 88.6 percent.

Ward 4 showed a decrease in total black population from 73.2 percent to 71.8 percent, and voting age population dropped from 69.7 percent to 68.3 percent.

Ward 6 showed a drop from 36.6 percent to 28.7 percent for total black population, and the voting age population decreased from 31.6 percent to 25.2 percent.

Wards 1 and 3 were left relatively unchanged.

Under the current ward lines and the proposed plan, blacks have the majority vote in wards 1, 2, 4 and 5.

The proposed ward lines are based on the 2010 census. The current ward lines are based on the 2000 census.

The city previously attempted to redistrict its wards in 2011 — when pre-clearance was required by the U.S. Department of Justice for redistricting.

That plan was denied, leaving ward lines unchanged.

The DOJ contended that the rejected plan reduced the voting age black population in Ward 5 to 46 percent, and that the city appeared to have drawn the lines that way because blacks were on the verge of winning a fourth seat on the six-member board of aldermen.