By STEVEN NALLEY
Consultants with the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District presented two proposals for redistricting the city’s wards at the Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday, both of which would keep all aldermen within their wards and maintain minority populations in Wards 6 and 7 in excess of 63 percent in accordance with U.S. Department of Justice regulations.
Without a formal motion, Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman and the aldermen decided to delay further discussion on the two plans until the GTPDD has collected feedback from all aldermen and revised its proposals accordingly. Wiseman said the board is open to continuing public discussion with GTPDD at either a regular meeting or a work session. No specific time limit is set for the revisions to return to the board.
“I want them to use their judgment in determining when it will be productive to have subsequent discussions on the matter,” Wiseman said. “It will be the consultants’ responsibility to make sure that we meet our deadline.”
Toby Sanford, geographic information system manager at GTPDD, gave the presentation Tuesday. He said the city must complete the redistricting process 45 days before the election.
The redistricting process adjusts wards’ borders to make sure their populations are as even as possible. Ideally, Sanford said, all of Starkville’s wards would have a population of 3,413, which is the number of total Starkville residents, 23,888, divided by the number of wards, seven. To calculate the maximum variance from this ideal, he said, the percentages of highest and lowest deviation from the ideal are added. The maximum variance must be no higher than 10 percent, he said.
The maximum variance is currently 70.80 percent.
Ward 1’s population is currently over the ideal by 50.12 percent, closely followed by Ward 3’s excess of 32.28 percent. All other wards are below the ideal, with Ward 2 farthest below by 20.68 percent. For that reason, Sanford said, Wards 1 and 3 must cede some populations and their territory to the other wards.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver said he had no objection to the cession. He said the growth could be attributed to the Crossgates community and other growth between the Highway 25 bypass and Stark Road.
“The west side of Starkville has grown more than any other, that’s pretty obvious,” Carver said. “I don’t think (the cession is) an issue. It’s something we have to do. I understand that. It’s not any kind of personal issue to me. I think the GTPDD came in with two pretty good plans. I do believe we need to have a work session and tweak out certain areas of special concern for each alderman.”
Sanford said Ward 5 presented a particular challenge because it has a population deficit but does not border any of the wards with population surpluses. This means Ward 5 has to pull from other wards with deficits, which must then pull more from Wards 1 and 3 to make up the loss.
“You kind of have to funnel people around,” Sanford said.
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said he saw the funneling coming.
“There’s no doubt that all of us will have to move toward (Wards 1 and 3) to gain population,” Dumas said.
Sanford said block placement poses another challenge. Blocks are the subdivisions of land the federal government uses for redistricting, he said, and they are often defined by geographical landmarks such as roads, rivers and mountains. In 2008, he said, the federal government re-drew the block borders based on 2000 census figures.
“There are some blocks that could have been split (but were not), and there are some blocks that should not have been consolidated that were,” Sanford said. “(The city) can split blocks, but you usually try to stay away from it. The census is not going to go back and re-count for you. It’s up to city and county government to do that legwork.”
One example the aldermen discussed Tuesday was J.L. King Park. The GTPDD’s first plan moved J.L. King Park from Ward 7 to Ward 6 because the park and an adjacent block were consolidated and ceded to Ward 6.
However, when Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn brought this change to Sanford’s attention, Sanford said areas with no population such as parks could be split off. He said the park could then return to Ward 7, and Ward 6 could keep all the population.
Dumas said he can think of at least one instance where he would welcome a block change. The current ward map divides one neighborhood along Hiwassee Drive between Ward 5 and Ward 6, and he would rather have the entire neighborhood ceded to one ward or another. He said he has not yet determined which ward should include the neighborhood.
“It would do away with the idea that a family on one side of the street has to call one individual, but a family on the other side of the street has to call a completely different individual,” Dumas said. “I just think that would be (suitable) for that to be a common-interest neighborhood.”