Redistricting plan draws Lowndes residents' ire

April 5, 2011 10:09:00 AM

Garthia Elena Burnett -


Solidifying Lowndes County''s redistricting plan could be a hard-fought battle, as the plan heads to the Justice Department. 


Despite objections from 20 community members, the Board of Supervisors on Monday voted to send its previously approved redistricting plan to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval. The DOJ screens redistricting plans for fairness to minorities. 


More than 100 community members flooded the downstairs courtroom at the Lowndes County Courthouse for Monday''s public hearing on redistricting, many seated in chairs brought in from other rooms. Several more spilled out into the hall, watching from the doorway. Sixteen community members and Supervisor Leroy Brooks spoke out against the plan, citing similar reasons: The plan was not adopted prior to March 1, the deadline to qualify for local elections; it "dilutes" black voter strength in District 5 (Brooks'' district) while "packing" minorities in District 4; was approved prior to a public hearing; and the hearing was held at a time during the workday, when many interested community members could not attend. 


"I think the plan unlawfully dilutes the voting power of (black citizens) in Lowndes County," said Connie Davis Sherman, chairwoman of the Coalition for Fair Redistricting. 


The redistricting plan takes District 5, one of two black-majority districts, from a current 63.5-percent black to 62 percent. District 4, the other black-majority district, remains 79.4-percent black, which Brooks says is too high. 


Sherman also read letters of objection from Columbus City Councilman Kabir Karriem, Lowndes County Democratic Executive Committee Chairman Troy Miller, Danny Cunningham of the Columbus-Lowndes County League of Voters and Crawford Mayor Fred Tolon. (Tolon had attended the Board of Supervisors meeting, earlier Monday morning. He and the other letter writers, Sherman said, could not attend the hearing because of the time.) 


"Dilution increases the chances of being taxed without representation," said Kamal Karriem, a former Columbus city councilman and Kabir Karriem''s brother. "There currently are two black supervisors. This would lead the way to the demise of one or both black positions." Kamal Karriem also is an associate pastor at Stephen Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. 


"You''re trying to roll back the clock through trickery and numbers," said James Samuel, a local pastor, who likened the plan to a personal experience he had in the early ''60s. 


"My mind wanders back to 1963, when I walked down Fifth Street and was kicked simply because I was black, and the man who kicked me was white and could get away with it," he said. 


James Richardson, local minister and coach at Columbus High, said the time of the meeting and limited accommodations showed the supervisors were unwilling to listen to public response.  


"That says to me that the what we had to say wasn''t important enough for you to listen," Richardson said. 


Columbus-Lowndes County NAACP President Lavonne Harris and City Councilman Joseph Mickens, among others, also addressed the board with concerns about redistricting. 


"The time of the public hearing was intended to prevent attendance," Harris said. 


"It''s just not fair, if you want to be fair," said Mickens, adding that at least one of the county''s districts should reflect the makeup of the county. 


Longtime Election Commissioner Leon Speck added another perspective to the meeting. While many voiced concerns over voting power, sometimes only 20-25 percent of registered voters cast a ballot, noted Speck, who was the sole white community member to address the board during the hearing. 


"That upsets me more than anything," he said. 


The plan was approved 4-1, with Brooks voting against. Supervisors also approved a redistricting plan for the county''s three constable and Justice Court districts. This plan also was approved 4-1, with Brooks voting against. The constable/Justice Court redistricting called for less change than the supervisor districts. Its redistricting plan brings the sole majority-black district -- District 3 -- from a 69.1-percent black majority to 67.1. 


In other matters, the board voted 4-1, with Brooks voting against, to amend the supervisors'' redistricting plan to add a block of 19 (16 white and three black, according to the U.S. Census) voters back into District 5. The block includes former Columbus Packet owner and editor Roger Larsen, who qualified to run for supervisor and lives on Sixth Avenue North. The plan would have moved him into District 2. 


"I don''t care what the percentage is," said Larsen, after Monday''s meeting. "I''m going to actually solicit the black vote and white vote. I''m hoping to get a lot of support (from the black community)."