Controversial redistricting plan approved

Published 11:17 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Over the continuing objections by citizens and one of their own, the City Council on Wednesday gave final approval to a redistricting plan that now will go to the U.S. Department of Justice for review.

Three citizens, all frequent guests in council chambers during the redistricting debates, arrived again to make their voices heard during the public hearing.

All three opposed the plan in its current form because, they say, it dilutes the black vote. One speaker also objected to the placement of polling places in two precincts.

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Later, during a comment period for council members, Councilman Leroy Bennett again brought up a conversation he says occurred between him and City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn on Nov. 2.

Bennett would be moved from the district he currently represents and into that of Councilman Charles Brown under the plan that has been approved.

He said Wednesday that he had asked the city manager how many working maps were developed, and she responded there had been seven to 10. Then asking how the official working map was chosen from among the others, Bennett said he was told a committee had chosen it. He then asked for and received the names of staff members on that committee, he said.

“You were told there were iterations, but there was only one working map,” Cuffee-Glenn said during this Wednesday’s meeting.

“I know what I heard,” Bennett responded.

Councilman Charles Parr countered Bennett’s recollection of the conversation.

“I don’t believe the term ‘map’ was used,” Parr said, going on to defend the city staff’s actions as having been within the council’s direction. “I don’t understand why we’re dragging people through the mud now and we’re using words that were not the words.”

The citizens who spoke against the plan at the meeting — Johnnie Edwards Jr., Paul Gillis and Clinton Jenkins, all members of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — urged council to postpone approving the map.

“Why the rush?” Gillis said. “Why not get it right?”

Clinton Jenkins asked for changes to be made to the proposed polling places in Hollywood and White Marsh precincts.

The plan would change the polling place for Hollywood from the Hoffler Apartments community room to the East Suffolk Recreation Center.

“The Hollywood polling site is well lit up, the community are familiar with it, it’s safe,” Jenkins said, asking the council not to change it.

The White Marsh polling place, on the other hand, would change from the recreation center to Greater First Baptist Church Orlando.

“It’s a nice church, but I wouldn’t want to go up there at night and vote,” Jenkins said, noting that there are few parking spaces, the lot is surrounded by trees and tall shrubs and it is poorly lit.

However, the council approved the plan, with several members noting that polling places can be changed in between rounds of redistricting if they do not work.

The plan now goes to the Department of Justice for approval.