Bennett speaks out at church info meeting

Published 10:14 pm Monday, August 15, 2011

Councilman Leroy Bennett met with a group of citizens to inform them about the city’s redistricting proposal and explain his alternative plan at the East End Baptist Church Monday.

About 30 people attended the meeting, which was coordinated by the church’s Political Awareness Ministry, of which Bennett is a member.

Bennett told the group he began exploring the possibility of other options when the city put forward its plan that would cut him and two School Board members out of their districts.

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“I started talking to people about other plans, so it would at least give you some more options,” he said.

As a result, Norfolk State University professor Dr. Rudolph Wilson drew up an alternative proposal that would keep Bennett and the other City Council members in their districts; however, this alternative would still cut School Board members Thelma Hinton and Diane Foster out of the boroughs they represent.

Bennett said he wants to look at redesigning the plan to ensure no one would lose his or her seat.

“I did want to take a look at that because I wouldn’t want anyone to be treated the way I was treated,” Bennett said.

Bennett said he would present the plan to City Council at its meeting Wednesday.

“I’m hoping that when this happens, more maps will be presented other than the one I presented and the one the city presented,” Bennett said.

Sandra Knight, Political Awareness Ministry chair, said she called the meeting to ensure the community was informed about what was going on.

“I thought that they were not being as fair with this redistricting,” Knight said. “The citizens need an opportunity to hear the other side.”

Knight said she encourages everyone who is unhappy with the redistricting to attend the City Council’s meeting on Wednesday, in addition to contacting the Department of Justice to voice their opinions.

“We need to speak out,” she said. “We cannot afford to lose (Bennett’s) expertise. We have got to stand up and be counted.”

Susan Bennett, the councilman’s wife, said at the meeting she suspects that the city’s redistricting plan was influenced by race.

She said she thinks the proposal might violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited discriminatory voting practices.

“When I look at the situation, I think maybe this isn’t the right thing,” she said. “I think we have a case here of moving backward.”

Retired NSU professor Phillip McNeil, who attends Temple Beth El on Bridge Road, said he doesn’t want to see Bennett leave the Nansemond borough.

McNeil said while the city’s plan meets all of the legal redistricting requirements, it doesn’t meet a moral requirement to the council members.

“This plans meets all the legal principles, but there’s a fairness principle here,” he said. “(Another principle) should be every councilmember should stay in his district. That’s a moral requirement.”