By CARL SMITH
The Starkville Board of Aldermen began reviewing four model redistricting maps during a work session Tuesday in order to begin the process of drawing new internal boundaries for the city.
Although no formal decision was to be made during the meeting, two aldermen took exception to the process itself.
Before a presentation by Starkville Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill, Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said the maps were to serve as strictly a starting point for the aldermen to discuss redistricting.
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins then said the board needed to approach redistricting through specially called sessions or regular board meetings in order to document the process as carefully and cautiously as possible. Perkins said the maps present real issues with the voting rights act and “serious gerrymandering throughout the city.”
“If we’re not careful, we’ll end up in federal court. It is imperative we do not tinker with Wards 5, 6 and 7. (Wards) 6 and 7 need to remain intact as is,” Perkins said. “As we proceed, I want to remind the persons who draw these lines to stay out of (the) politics.”
Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn said although he was there for the work session, it appeared the session had already occurred and noted the appearance of “meetings before the meeting.”
“(The maps) show every alley, ditch and street (in my ward), (but) I can’t get the ones in my ward fixed. (The process) shows no kind of respect to my constituents,” Vaughn said.
Wiseman said the work session was only to be used as a starting point for redistricting.
“In July, the board expressed interest in seeing potential starting points. These maps have been produced by the city’s GIS coordinator, Andrew Nagel, who knows nothing about politics,” Wiseman said. “This is nothing but a technical exercise.”
Spruill said two wards — Wards 1 and 3 — are both above the 3,413-resident number which provides a comfortable balance between all seven divisions. Ward 1, she said, is over the mark by over 1,600 people, while Ward 3 has more than 1,300 residents than the average. To reach this balance, other wards in the city would have to gain residents. No one ward would need over 1,000 extra residents.
The sample maps were prepared attempting to keep traditional neighborhoods together and current aldermen in their original wards, Spruill said.
“We want to satisfy the needs of all aldermen and their areas,” she said. “We can go back to the drawing board.”
Wiseman also asked for feedback from the board about the redistricting process itself, noting other municipalities have used outside consultants to help draw borders. No further suggestions were offered by the board at that time.
“These meetings are for feedback. We’ll take that feedback and use it to draw new maps. Work sessions are designed to be a little more fluid and open ended,” Wiseman said. “Hopefully between now and Tuesday, everyone will have time to think of a potential course of action. That meeting will provide a good opportunity for discussion.”
No matter the plan aldermen approve, Wiseman said it will have to be cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice. Two public hearings will also follow after the board agrees on new boundaries.
“It takes a monumental process to have a product all board members agree with,” he said. “We’ll go about this in a way all seven members say it works.”