By CARL SMITH
The Starkville Board of Aldermen will hold a special work session at 5:30 p.m. today at City Hall on potential redistricting changes needed to keep the city’s population balanced geographically.
In its previous meeting, the board agreed to hold special work sessions on Tuesdays between its regular monthly meetings in order to discuss redistricting needs, capital improvements plans and the need for a new municipal complex.
Starkville Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill made a redistricting presentation to the board in early July. In that meeting, Spruill told Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver and Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker the population of their respective wards would have to be trimmed in order to reach an ideal balance — about 3,500 residents — between all seven of Starkville’s wards. Federal regulations require municipalities to keep the population of its wards as balanced as possible.
“Wards 1 and 3 saw the largest population growth in the last 10 years. That means some of the population in those wards will have to be redistributed amongst the remaining wards,” Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said. “Redistricting will affect all wards. All have to be nearly perfectly balanced. Every ward will see some changes.”
The city has developed a number of models in which wards would be divided more evenly. Spruill said the city will be mindful to keep aldermen in their own wards as new boundaries are developed.
“Some of them may be on the edge, but it is our goal to keep them in their wards,” Spruill said.
Wiseman said the city will also focus on achieving minority population thresholds in each ward and try to keep numerous board-appointed committee members in their appropriate wards.
“This process is detailed pretty well by the justice department, which will ultimately review the plan the board adopts,” Wiseman said. “We will stick closely to the process it mandates and also take into account priorities for changes as it mandates.”
Parker said the ideal resident count for Starkville following the 2000 census was between 3,000 and 3,200. He said his ward has grown to about 4,800 residents.
Although Parker could potentially lose about 1,500 voters in Ward 3, he said redistricting will not fully change the makeup of his ward. Ward 3 is located south of Highway 12 and is bordered by streets including Louisville Street, Yellow Jacket Drive and Locksley Way. Wards 2, 4 and 7 are connected to Ward 3.
“For me, I don’t think I’ll have to give up any of the major neighborhoods I represent,” Parker said. “In the worst-case scenario, I see Academy Road falling out of my ward, but the main neighborhoods — Pleasant Acres, Timber Cove, Greenbriar and so on — there’s no doubt I’ll still have them. For my ward, it’s not as complicated to break it down following major thoroughfares and geographic points like Montgomery (Street) and Hollis Creek.”
Ward 1 includes the eastern part of Starkville north of Highway 12 and extends to Louisville Street. Ward 1 neighborhoods include Greenoaks, Foxwood, West End and Upper Crossing. Neighboring wards include Wards 2, 6 and 7.
A phone call placed to Carver went unreturned yesterday.
Parker said he believes it will take the city two to three work sessions to settle on a redistricting plan.
“I know there are four or five proposed plans for us to review. I don’t see us choosing a plan just yet,” Parker said. “We need to take the aspects that we like of each plan and review those.”
After the board agrees to a plan, public hearings will be held to gain input from residents. If the board votes to approve the plan, it will then be sent to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval.
City Clerk Markeeta Outlaw said the justice department could take about six months to approve the redistricting changes.