Iberville board adopts redistricting plan, includes non-voting parish inmates

The Iberville Parish School Board adopted a new redistricting plan Monday that will drastically reduce the 15-member body down to nine members heading into the 2014 School Board elections.

But a group of black residents from Plaquemine said they intend to challenge the new redistricting plan in court because it will dilute the minority representation on the School Board by making it tougher for black candidates to win in the new districts.

“We need four distinct, electable minority districts,” said Linda Johnson, one of the Plaquemine residents, to the board before it adopted the new map 11-2 during its regular meeting Monday night.

Board members Yolanda Laws and Freddie Molden were absent from Monday night’s meeting.

The School Board was considering four redistricting plans, all with eight single-member districts and an at-large member.

Johnson and the rest of the group also criticized the board’s new map because it included nearly 4,000 inmates from the state’s prison system.

The Plaquemine faction favored another plan up for consideration Monday night that would have excluded the prison population and created the four minority districts.

“I know the goal of being the incumbent is to protect your territory. I would do the same thing,” Johnson said. “But in trying to make it fair, you have to look at the population here. We need four, electable, minority districts.”

Board member Darlene Ourso voiced the same concerns as the group during Monday night’s meeting.

“How fair is it that we’re considering a map that has an entire precinct of voters (who) can’t vote?” Ourso said, referring to inclusion of prisoners in the adopted plan.

“(This) is about saving your own neck. If we are doing the right thing, those of us up here shouldn’t be worried about getting re-elected.”

But board member Tom Delahaye retorted, “The cuts are across the board. The cuts have hit both sides. There are three white members put into one district in Plaquemine.”

Under the new map, board members Pam George, who is white, and Donald Patterson, who is black, would have to face one another in the 2014 elections for the District C seat.

Laws and Dorothy Sansoni, both black, would be locked in a race in 2014 against Michael Barbee in District F, which is primarily made up of the White Castle area.

And John Morris and Molden, both black, would have to face off against Ourso for the District G seat next year.

The board’s last current black member, Melvin Lodge, would not have to battle any of his fellow board members, according to the plan adopted by the board Monday.

Lodge shares that luxury with board members Nancy Broussard, Glyna Kelley and Polly Higdon in the new district maps.

The new map sets up Michael Hebert, Jr., Brian Willis and Delahaye, all white, in a race for the District H seat on the board.

The board’s reduction was forced by a 2010 law that was presented to the Legislature for approval by former state Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Grosse Tete.

Editor’s note: This story was changed Dec. 10, 2013, to show that the group of residents who protested against the redistricting plan are from Plaquemine and not White Castle. Also changed was the reference to the 4,000 inmates in the redistricting plan who are part of the state’s prison system and not the parish’s.