February 22, 2012 10:26:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Starkville Board of Aldermen had gone more than three months without addressing pending redistricting until Tuesday night, when they received the first round of maps from the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District.
In a brief presentation from GTPDD geographic information systems manager Toby Sanford, aldermen were given a rundown of current population by ward, the proposed populations after boundaries are redrawn and where lines would shift in two different maps.
District 1 and District 3 are the two most populated wards, with 1,710 and 1,101 residents more than the ideal number of 3,413, respectively.
Aldermen ultimately decided to create individual lists of alternatives and recommendations for the next board meeting on March 6.
By late summer, all counties and municipalities in the state have to balance their wards and districts, both by minority and overall population. Sanford said the Department of Justice, which regulates redistricting, will take up to 60 days to review submissions and another 60 days to conduct interviews with city officials.
That timeline will come after at least two public hearings and open-to-the-public work sessions.
In October, before the Board contracted GTPDD, aldermen were split on where to redraw lines because of geographical landmarks, ditches and demographics. The board agreed to contract a planning group to avoid political bias.
The board agreed that keeping neighborhoods intact is a priority, as some larger neighborhoods are separated by boundary lines. Ward 2 Alderwoman Sandra Sistrunk referenced Hollis Creek separating a street in Huntington Park, while Ward 5 Aldermen Jeremiah Dumas said two neighborhoods in his ward are broken by boundaries.
A key aspect in any redistricting in Wards 6 and 7 -- mostly populated by blacks -- is to ensure the city doesn't violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices. Any redistricting approved by the board will be sent to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval.
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins urged the board to leave Wards 6 and 7 intact.
"The Justice Department will consult with African-Americans on the board to get our opinion on this," Perkins said in October. "There appears to be no real need to redraw the entire city. These maps do some serious gerrymandering throughout the city."
By a 4-3 vote in January -- Aldermen Sistrunk, Richard Corey and Jeremiah Dumas cast nay votes -- the board decided to contract the planning group for work not to exceed $10,000.
Corey questioned the decision because the board's original intent was to find a third party without political bias. The GTPDD is within the city limits.
"I think they do good work, but if we're going to go with a local group, we can do it ourselves," Corey said.
Perkins knocked the contract because of the stipulation requiring three maps.
"What's the relevancy in directing them to provide three maps?" Perkins asked. "It looks like we're trying to dictate the process. It's intrusive to ask them that."
Board members had minor inquiries about the maps and figures Sanford provided Tuesday and are expected to set public hearing dates at the next board meeting.
Perkins slams "privatizing" of clerks office
What appeared to be a minor agenda item rekindled discussion Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins has been a part of at different points of his five terms on the board.
The board was to consider accepting the request for qualifications for an internal control consultant from T.E. Lott and Company, which would essentially provide an independent viewpoint of how the city clerk's office is run and produce detailed audits. Last month, the city was stuck with an $18,000 bill for interest and fees for a missed payment.
Alderwoman Sandra Sistrunk said it's unclear how much T.E. Lott and Company would be paid for their service because it's unclear how long they'd take. Aldermen voted 4-3 to accept the request for a quotation, with Aldermen Henry Vaughn, Perkins and Ben Carver casting nay votes.
Perkins, however, viewed the motion as a way of privatizing what the clerk's office already does. Additionally, he referenced failed attempts to privatize sanitation and rubbish services in the past.
"I think this is the wrong approach," Perkins said, "trying to run the city clerk's office through outside sources. I'm not aware of any other department where we do that.
"If there is an issue with the city clerk's office, we need to address it," Perkins added. "This is not the prudent way to rectify something that's happened in the past."
Perkins said the motion would have citywide implications, potentially starting a domino effect of privatizing other audits and services.
"We have people; if we don't, we can hire them," Perkins said. "You start privatizing, and it can hurt local economy and jobs."
Sistrunk called the service, at best, a specialized form of an audit, which is done every year. She said the company's intent isn't to fully explore all of the city's internal controls because there's simply not enough time.
"We choose to get outside help because there's limited staff," Perkins said. "I don't think Ms. (City Clerk Markeeta) Outlaw or the city clerk's office has any reason to oppose the idea of having outside help."
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