Gretna — The City Council has approved its new district boundaries and now the city is waiting to see if the Justice Department agrees with its guidelines.
Council members unanimously approved a plan developed by demographer Glen Keopp that seeks to address complaints that the city’s annexation of Timberlane subdivision in 2008 diluted the voting power of the city’s black residents. The new plan doesn’t cause wholesale changes but does make enough tweaks to bring the city in line with the 2010 census.
The new plan was the second option submitted by Keopp and was called Plan C. It keeps Timberlane subdivision split between districts 3 and 4 and makes minor changes to districts 1 and 2. It also ensures that the city’s population is split almost evenly between the four districts.
Federal law mandates that there only be a 10 percent size difference between the approved district sizes and what would be an even split of the city’s population. Under the new plan, Gretna has only a 1 percent deviation from an even split.
Councilman Vincent Cox III said he supported Plan C because it allowed him to maintain neighborhood continuity in some long-standing neighborhoods. He said it stays the closest to the familiar district boundaries, which is what residents prefer.
“Plan C is going to be, it seems like, the least amount of change for the neighborhoods and the constituents involved,” Cox said. “Plan C is the best of both worlds.”
Gretna has been working on the plan for months, and the process has been delayed by the city’s inability to get the plaintiffs in the voting rights lawsuit to provide their own plan for the new districts.
Under the city’s settlement with the plaintiffs, both the city and the plaintiffs were supposed to create a new district map and then hire an independent demographer to produce a separate plan.
The council would then consider those three plans and make a final selection.
However, Attorney Ronald Wilson, who represents the plaintiffs, said he didn’t submit a plan because of the cost associated with completing a study. He added that ultimately the final decision was the city’s, and it made more sense to let the council pick a plan and then review the board’s decision.
None of the plaintiffs were present Wednesday.
City Attorney Mark Morgan will submit the plan to the Justice Department for consideration, and the city will ask to have that process expedited. Keopp said once that’s complweted, the new boundaries will go to the Louisiana Secretary of State. The city hopes to avoid having its April elections delayed.
“There is a drop dead date of a week before qualifying” said Koepp, who added that the plan is as fair as possible. “You can’t get much better than this.”